For decades now, Gallup has been asking voters about their dealbreakers when it comes to electing a President:
If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be ________, would you vote for that person?
And every time, “atheist” has been at the bottom of the list. In 2012, there was cause for celebration simply because more than half of those surveyed said they wouldn’t hold atheism against a politician.
Yesterday, the Pew Research Center released the results of their own version of this question. They wanted to know which qualities would help and hurt potential 2016 presidential candidates.
They asked voters whether certain characteristics would make it more or less likely that a politician would get their votes. For example, if the candidate were a woman, 19% of those surveyed said they would be more inclined to vote for her while 9% said less, for a net positive of 10%.
So Pew ranked the characteristics from highest net positive traits (served in the military, was/is a governor) to the highest net negative (take a guess):
There we are, way at the bottom. 48% of voters, on the whole, say they would be less likely to vote for someone who was an atheist. Having an affair would hurt you less than admitting there’s no evidence for the existence of God. Someone who’s never held elected office would be at an advantage over someone who didn’t believe in fairy tales.
(Hello, European readers. Please stop laughing at us.)
The one upside to that is that atheism was a more harmful trait seven years ago (63% of voters said in 2007 that they would be less likely to vote for an atheist, compared to 53% now), so the percentages are at least heading in the right direction, albeit very slowly…But that’s not even the craziest result. It’s disappointing, for sure, but it’s not unexpected.
Here’s the real kicker: When they asked people who were Unaffiliated (atheists, agnostics, and those who believe in God but don’t use a religious label) whether they’d be more likely to vote for someone who didn’t believe in God, only 12% said they would be more likely to support that candidate. And 24% of Nones said they would be less likely to vote for an atheist!
Are you kidding me?!
You know we have problems when even some atheists won’t support other atheists running for office. (Meanwhile, 58% of evangelical Christians say they would be more likely to vote for one of their own; only 4% of them say they’d be less likely to vote for a fellow evangelical)
I’d like to say that’s a good thing. It means we’re aware that just being an atheist doesn’t automatically make someone a good candidate. It means we consider other factors in addition to someone’s religious label. It means we think more critically about candidates.
But the largest religious groups in the country don’t do that — and that, unfortunately, makes them a much more powerful voting bloc than us. They’ll blindly support candidates who spout Bible verses and speak Christianese — arguably over better candidates who don’t just resort to religious platitudes or who keep their beliefs to themselves.
There’s far more of them than us — and they are more likely to rally behind someone from their own tribe.
If there’s one silver lining to this, it’s that 64% of the religiously Unaffiliated say that a candidate’s atheism doesn’t matter to them. It’d be a more relevant number if there were more Unaffiliated Americans, but it’s still worth considering, Maybe it means atheist candidates running for office might as well come out of the closet. They already have an uphill battle, so why not just do some good and crack the glass ceiling before the election is over?
(via The Week)