The slightly more electable atheist President

Six in ten Americans would vote for an atheist as President, compared to fewer than half a decade ago, and only two in ten at the start of the 1960s.

That improvement is still well below the nine in ten who would vote for a black person or a woman, and the eight in ten who would vote for a gay candidate. The figures are based on regular Gallup polls since the 1930s.

When I wrote about this in 2008, atheists were under the 50% mark, facing roughly the same level of prejudice as a woman candidate would have faced in the 1940s while women workers were being sacked to make way for returning soldiers.

Or as a black candidate would have faced in the 1960s while Martin Luther King was delivering his ‘I have a Dream’ speech. Or as a gay candidate would have faced in the 1980s while many of the straight community were blaming gay men for an AIDS epidemic.

But that has now changed. Americans today are more willing to vote for a generally well-qualified person for president, nominated by their own party, who happened to be of a social group that has traditionally faced prejudice.

  • More than nine in ten Americans would vote for a black, Catholic, Hispanic, Jewish, or woman candidate.
  • About eight in ten would vote for an evangelical Christian or gay candidate.
  • About seven in ten would vote for a candidate aged under forty or over seventy.
  • Muslim candidates are slightly ahead of atheists at 66% compared to 60%.

Nine in ten Democrats would vote for a Muslim but only seven in ten Democrats would vote for an atheist. Only four in ten Republicans would vote for either, while nine in ten Republicans would vote for an evangelical Christian.

There is still a lot more to do to chip away at the prejudice against atheists in the United States. Remember, this question refers to people voting for a generally well-qualified person who is nominated by their own party.

But the progress is encouraging if slow. The World Values Surveys show that societies are generally becoming more secular around the world. It seems inevitable that the United States will follow that pattern.

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