Of interest in an election year is a recent Gallup poll that focused on the degree of Americans’ acceptance of presidential candidates of various characteristics and backgrounds.
This poll (conducted in early June) has received considerable attention in atheist/freethought circles. In particular, much has been made of the poll’s indication that – at long last – a majority of Americans would vote for an atheist for president of the United States.
When Gallup first asked the question about atheist electability (back in 1958), only 18% expressed willingness to vote for “a generally well qualified person” with that identity. Now, having repeated the question 3 times, the acceptability number is 54%. Okay, that’s progress, if one deems the polling methods to be telling us something credible.
While most are touting the achievement of the 54%, the reality is that the electability growth is only slightly over 2% per year across the 54 intervening years. It appears, too, that most of the progress was early on. From 1958 to 1978, atheist electability more than doubled across the twenty years (going from 18% to 40%). The number then climbed more gradually moving just 9% (to 49% in 1999) before climbing even more gently across the following decade to pass the majority point for electability.
In his “Friendly Atheist” blog, Hemant Mehta, a Bright, has a nice discussion of the data from the atheist perspective. Yet his title sums up the poll’s findings under the title: “Atheists Are Still the Most Unelectable Group in America.”
The bright spot, however, is there to see if one looks. It is the fact that young folks (ages 18 to 29) are generally the most tolerant of presidential candidates from various backgrounds. They're way more accepting than citizens over 65. As regards atheists, the comparison is 70% to 40%, a powerful 30% young-to-old difference.
Gallup data show that Americans have generally, over time, become more accepting of various groups (minority religions, women, blacks, gays). However, the poll report concludes that “...there are still certain types of candidates -- specifically atheists and Muslims -- that Americans would have a harder time supporting.” The poll was about presidential candidates, but that’s likely indicative of other capacities.
Citizens who have a naturalistic worldview tend to recognize that human morality has developed naturally in the species. Consequently, they know they have moral equivalence to citizens who hold fast to supernatural and mystical explanations (including deity-belief). But they also know they aren’t perceived and treated as civic equals. And they won’t be for a while at the snail’s pace Gallup polls indicate.
Being characterized (mired) in the religion ballgame, brights of all stripes (and not just those who identify as atheists) are evaluated by way of contrast. It is one of the factors making progress in social acceptance of all brights so painfully slow.