Updated: Would you vote for an atheist president? Some interesting numbers were released last week from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and Gallup.
The Pew Forum survey looked at religious identification and the presidency and shows that most voters want to have a president with strong religious beliefs. The survey also looked at how well voters could identify the religion of each candidate and found that “60% of voters are aware that Romney is Mormon,” and that the “vast majority” say that it doesn’t matter. However, there is apparently something white evangelical Protestants and atheists can agree on as they “are the most likely to say that they are uncomfortable with Romney’s faith.”
Some myths about Obama’s religion continue to persist. “Currently, 49% of registered voters identify Obama as Christian,” according to the survey, “while 31% say they don’t know what he is, and 17% misidentify him as Muslim.”
The slight rise in the number saying that Obama is a Muslim has been most pronounced among conservative Republicans. The number of conservative Republicans who say Obama is a Muslim has doubled since October 2008 (from 16% to 34%). There has been virtually no change in the share of moderate and liberal Republicans who say Obama is Muslim, or among any Democratic or Democratic-leaning groups.
It is the Gallup Poll, however, that wins the most-shocking statistic award from the question: “if your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be [an atheist], would you vote for that person?” A majority (54%) checked yes; the first time the question was asked in 1958 the numbers were significantly smaller (18%). Muslims ranked only slightly higher than atheists on the same question (58%) and a gay or lesbian candidate topped them both (68%).
Back in December of 2011, I wrote a piece at The Huffington Post asking “Will 2012 be the Year of the Atheist?” Statistics across the globe showed varying reactions to atheists. (A study done by The University of British Columbia, for example, showed that atheists were distrusted about as much as rapists.) At that time, one Gallup poll survey of 2011 showed that 15 percent of Americans identify themselves in the category of “none/atheist/agnostic” on the question of religion, compared to 23.6 percent who identify themselves as Catholic, a population considered large in the United States. Now a new study shows that number moving from 15% to 19% during this election year.
In answering my own question, 2012 may not be the year atheists take over the world, but it is definitely a year which marks their serious strides to be accepted within society. This year there are more ministers coming out of the proverbial closet through efforts like The Clergy Project and atheists and agnostics have put a lot of sweat equity into encouraging others to be honest about their identification through projects like The Reason Rally at the National Mall. If numbers can grow from 18% to 54% for the presidency and 15% to 19% of the population within months of an election year, then I think that those who fall into the atheist/agnostic/none camp may find the next five years to be a significant period of transformation for the political and religious climate of the United States.
If the devoutly religious hope to reverse this trend, I think they’ll need to start a better PR campaign.