For decades now, Gallup has asked Americans if they’d vote for someone from their own political party if that person were a [blank]. While more than 90% of voters would be supportive of a candidate who was black, Catholic, Jewish, Hispanic, or a woman, the numbers have always been relatively low for atheists.
In 2012, there was cause for celebration simply because more than half of those surveyed said they would support an atheist candidate. In 2015, that number had jumped to 58% and there was a new low group on the totem pole: Socialists, who only had the support of 47% of voters. (If you think that’s higher than expected, thank Bernie Sanders.)
But a new poll by Lake Research Partners, on behalf of the American Humanist Association and the Center for Freethought Equality (and funded by the Stiefel Freethought Foundation), finds that atheism isn’t a huge political liability, at least among people who support abortion and LGBTQ rights.
That’s important to note, especially for Democrats in red districts. Instead of trying to change the minds of hard-core conservatives — keeping your atheism under wraps because it might be a deal-breaker for some — you’d be better off being honest and coming out as non-religious because it’ll inspire even more people to support you.
The survey finds that 72% of liberal Democrats would vote for an atheist on the ballot. 74% of them would support a more generic “non-religious” or “agnostic” candidate.
Also interesting? 14% of those voters said they would be more likely to support an atheist while only 7% say the opposite.
The report concludes:
Nontheistic, progressive Democrats in non-swing districts should no longer feel hesitant to be public about their religious identity. And while it still could be a challenging factor in swing districts, it’s no longer the taboo it once was.
There are a lot of caveats here… but really, they’re talking about progressives who have nothing to lose because, on paper, they’re going to lose. If you’re a progressive in Alabama, let’s say, you have an uphill climb. Rather than play it safe by not being honest about your beliefs, this survey says you’re not going to have a bigger problem by coming out as an atheist, so you might as well do it.
Case in point: Gayle Jordan. She ran for Tennessee State Senate in 2016 and lost. Even though she never brought up her atheism, she only received 26% of the vote. It’s not all that surprising; having “Democrat” next to her name was likely enough to sink her candidacy.
That seat opened up last year and she ran in the special election. So you might think she’d want to be even more careful about offending potential voters. Instead, she made it clear she was an atheist, and her opponents attacked her for it. She lost again… however this time, she earned 28% of the votes. Her open atheism didn’t even seem to affect her, and that’s the point.
The attacks appeared to have had no effect on the race, except to expose the leaders of the Tennessee Republican Party as appalling religious bigots.
I know the election results don’t sound all that encouraging, but for open atheists, they should be. Being honest and public about your atheism is no longer political suicide among the voters you need on your side. If you’re going to lose, odds are it’ll be for other reasons. That’s a huge revelation to those of us who have long wanted to see more non-religious representation in the world of politics.
You can see the actual data right here.