We know open atheists are (relatively) unelectable, that some states have (unenforceable) provisions preventing us from holding elected office, and that many people don’t even want their family members dating us.
But with more people leaving organized religion, and atheism itself carrying far less stigma than it used to, you would think all that’s going to change. If not now, then eventually.
Here’s a different way of looking at that same situation: If we can figure out who hates atheists the most, can we figure out when atheists will stop being so damn hated?
Using data from the 2012 American National Election Studies (ANES), he got a reading on how various groups feel about atheists based on a scale from 0-100 — the higher the number, the more they like us. The data is a few years old, but it’s thorough.
He did find some surprising information in there, like the fact that Democrats with no organized religion only give atheists a score of 54. (On the other side, Republican evangelicals give us a 27.) But I would draw your attention to the following chart more than the others because it looks at the two most consequential traits when it comes to atheist likability: Age and political affiliation.
On the left side of the graph we have young people and notice that there is not a statistically significant difference between how young Democrats and young Republicans score atheists, both are between 37 and 40. However as you move to the right hand side of the graph, things start to change. For Democrats the line is completely straight: meaning that an 80 year old Democrat will score atheists at the same thermometer level as an 18 year old after controlling for education, race, gender, and religion variables. The same is not true for Republicans, however. The results here indicate that an 80 year old Republican will score an atheist a dozen points lower than their younger Republican counterpart. While age plays a role, that impact is mediated through the lens of political partisanship.
That suggests some hope in the near future. As older Republicans die out, the one group of people that “hates” atheists more than anyone else disappears, increasing our electability and likability across the board. Even younger Republicans care less about atheism than someone’s views on other issues.
For what it’s worth, a more recent survey from 2017 also let different groups rate atheists between 0-100, and the results by age showed very similar results.
It doesn’t mean people will eventually like atheists more than any other identity, but the label won’t be as toxic in part because most people will know atheists personally and not see it as some sort of dealbreaker.