Six in 10 Americans "Less Likely" to Vote for an Atheist

Atheists are still widely discriminated against in the voting booth, a new study from the Pew Research Center confirms.

The national survey asked whether certain traits would make those polled more or less likely to vote for a candidate for president, and by far, the trait with the most negative response (61%) was lack of belief in a god.

More Americans are willing to vote for a candidate who is gay, Mormon, or divorced, or who had an extramarital affair or used marijuana than they would someone who simply has no belief in supernatural entities. Clearly, we still have a long road ahead of us toward fostering greater acceptance of nontheists in society. 

A related poll by Gallup this week reiterated how outnumbered nontheists are in the overall population: more than 9 in 10 Americans say they believe in god, a figure that's been relatively constant since the 1940s, though the actual breakdown (91% believe in god, 8% do not) suggests a slight increase in the number of Americans who lack belief -- or, at the very least, are willing to admit so in a poll. (Belief in god drops further, to 80 percent, when those polled are given the alternative option of saying they believe in a "universal spirit.")

According to Gallup:

Belief in God drops below 90% among younger Americans, liberals, those living in the East, those with postgraduate educations, and political independents. However, belief in God is nearly universal among Republicans and conservatives and, to a slightly lesser degree, in the South.

How will these personal beliefs affect the way people vote? According to Pew, 33% of Americans said a candidate's atheism made "no difference" to them, so clearly there are many believers willing to vote for non-believers. Atheists may be a minority, but we're still a part of America's cultural fabric, and we shouldn't be flat-out rejected by the majority simply because we affiliate with a different set of beliefs that do not necessarily translate into political views.

If there is a sign of hope in either of these polls, it's the fact that Americans are overwhelmingly willing to vote for members of other minority groups -- including blacks, Hispanics, gays and Mormons -- to which they may not belong. I'd like to think that's because our fellow citizens know it's wrong to judge someone solely on a label, and because they understand that within those groups, there is still a wide and diverse range of positions on the policy issues that should matter most when choosing a candidate.

I just wish they would realize the same is true for atheists.

Note: There is already one 2012 campaign that is shaping up to judge whether an openly atheist candidate can earn the support of theistic voters: Cecil Bothwell, an atheist, has announced his intention to run against U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler (D) in North Carolina's 11th Congressional District.



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