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The Myth That Atheists are Unelectable

So there is a new Pew Research Poll that once again shows that people don’t want to elect atheists to public office. This is nothing new. We already know that we are the most distrusted minority. However, I am still going to call BULLSHIT!

Look, there is no doubt that there is discrimination against atheists. When 80 to 90 percent of the nation believe in god, it is pretty obvious that we have a disadvantage. Still, different districts are… well, different. A large number of religious believers care more about political parties than they do about religious belief or lack of beliefs. So yeah, in some districts an atheist will have a harder time in than they would in other districts. But this might also have more to do with whether the atheist is a Democrat or Republican.

I bet that if Ayn Rand were alive today, she would have no problem getting elected even in the most fundamentally religious districts. While that is speculation, it based on the fact that Ron Paul named his son after her and he got elected anyway and that Congressman Paul Ryan practically worships her and he has a great deal of support from the religious despite this fact.

Still, there are districts in this country that are pretty liberal and there are districts in this country in which most people care more about political affiliation than they do about religious belief or lack of belief.

When atheists have decided that we can’t get elected, we not only don’t try to get elected we also don’t help out those who are trying. There are more atheists then there are Jews in this country. There may even be more atheists then there are gays. If we all supported an openly atheist candidate, we could get an atheist elected. But if we keep telling ourselves that it can’t happen, then we don’t support openly atheist candidates and they won’t win.

So I am calling Bullshit! I want to end this myth that atheists can’t win and I want to encourage everyone to donate money to atheist candidates (progressive ones anyway), even if it is only a few dollars. You can start with Cecil Bothwell.

If you don’t think he can win in North Carolina, check out my Examiner article on it.

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  • http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-norfolk Kenneth Montville

    The poll isn’t bullshit, it is simply viewing the entire nation as a whole, and as a whole it is correct. In American society there is a definite stigma against being non-religious. Generally speaking people tend to conflate religious piety and trustworthiness. Now that social norm may or may not be bullshit, but what social norms aren’t? You’re comparing a by-and-large poll with the idea that it may not be necessarily true in all districts. The arguments here are not mutually exclusive. Yes, some non-believers can be, and have been, elected in particularly non-religious or fairly socially progressive areas. This is all well and good for House Representatives, but what about positions like that of Senators? Or the President? Positions where larger areas which then outweigh any non-religious vote are used to pull support from? This will naturally offset any indifference to religion a particular district may lend to the vote.

    It was a battle to get JFK elected because he was a Catholic. Mitt Romney would have a difficult time in the Presidential election because he is a Mormon. Nearly every president in the last 200 years has been either a Protestant Christian or at least used guise to present themselves as such. I like the positive attitude you have on this matter but I think dismissing the actual problem of Christian privilege out of hand doesn’t do us any favours.

  • http://www.dangeroustalk.net Staks

    It’s no that the Poll is bullshit (although I think it was just polling Republicans), but the idea that atheists are unelectable. I find that idea to be bullshit. There is no doubt that there is Christian privilege in America, but we can’t let that become a self-fulfilling persecution complex which prevents us from trying. Every time I hear about an atheist candidate and encourage other atheists to support him or her, I am met with the same response, “atheists are unelectable. I wish the candidate well, but I’m not throwing my money away.”

    The myth that we are unelectable is actually what is keeping us from getting elected. As I stated, most people really don’t care. Let’s say that tomorrow Obama came out as an atheist. Would it change his chance for re-election? Not in the slightest is his opponent is Sarah Palin.

    In America, we vote against candidates not for candidates. Politics is all about the money and if most atheists donated a few dollars to an atheist candidate it would give that candidate a impressive edge. We need to act as a political block. If an atheist runs for school board, he or she should get donations from around the nation from other atheists. If he or she is running for Senate, same thing. It doesn’t matter. We need to support atheists and not allow this myth that we are unelectable stop us from being electable.

  • http://shaunphilly.wordpress.com ShaunPhilly

    This comes down to an empirical question. Of course, it is logically possible for an atheist to be elected. Of course it will be socially difficult to happen in many parts of the US. And, of course it can happen. The question is wen it will happen, where, and the extent of opinions, like those shown b this poll, will influence this possibility. Whether it can happen these coming election cycles will depend on how many open atheists are running, their credentials, their districts, etc. Personally, I think Cecil Bothwell has a good chance, and I wish him the best.

    Now, I don’t think I have a chance…but tat isn’t just because I’m an atheist….

  • Rich Wilson

    the fact that Ron Paul named his son after [Ayn Rand]


    the novelist Ayn Rand was not the inspiration for Paul’s first name; he went by “Randy” while growing up. His wife shortened his name to “Rand”.


    I think it was just polling Republicans

    I know that was rhetoric, but for the record:

    Most importantly, the poll doesn’t say atheists are unelectable. It says that 61% (plus or minus 3.5%) of American adults would be less likely to vote for a candidate who did not believe in God. And the plus/minus 3.5% is probably with a confidence level of 95%. That is, the number could be off by more than 3.5% 5% of the time.

    (We are supposed to be the facts and evidence ones, right?)

  • http://www.dangeroustalk.net Staks

    I seem to recall Ron Paul claiming that he named his son Rand after Ayn Rand. He and his wife may have had a difference of a opinion. For example, my son’s middle name is Lucas. My wife came up with it because she liked the name Luke, but didn’t want it to be confused with Luke from the Bible. I liked it because I am a HUGE George Lucas fan. So when people ask, we give different answers.

    The poll I think was just for Republicans, but this blog was more of a response to something the Friendly Atheist wrote (link at the end of the blog by Zemanta). His blog used the poll to say that atheists were unelectable (which is a popular claim by atheists).

  • http://www.marthaknox.com Martha Knox

    You bring up some great points. The problem with such polls is what they are basically asking is “All things being equal, would you vote for an atheist?” But things are never all equal in reality. The people answering the question are I guess just imagining some generic John Smith shaking a fist saying “There’s no god!” Of all the ridiculous things the Right has used to demonize Obama, I’ve yet to read something condemning him for being raised by a mother who was a secular humanist. I totally expected it, but it never happened. Instead they made up shit about him being an Muslim, and Rev. Wright being some kind of radical black power nutjob, and all the really crazy conspiracy theories. I think what these surveys really show is that the identity “atheist” still has a bad rep. But I don’t think in reality it reveals that atheist individual are un-electable.

  • Rich Wilson

    The poll included responses from 384 republicans, 500 democrats, and 552 independents. It mostly asked about republican presidential candidates, but it wasn’t ‘for’ or composed only of republicans.

    it’s all here: http://people-press.org/2011/06/02/about-the-survey-50/

    Correction to my earlier, it was actually residents of the Continental US 18 and older, so probably included some non-Citizens.

  • http://www.dangeroustalk.net Staks

    Thanks for the correction, but it still doesn’t change my view that we can still get elected if we work together! If we all support reasonable atheist candidates, then those candidates can win. Let’s make it happen!

  • http://reasonblogs.org Eric S.

    “When atheists have decided that we can’t get elected, we not only don’t try to get elected we also don’t help out those who are trying.”


    I’m SO agreeing with you Staks… this myth is just another one that needs to be killed (or busted).

    Atheists just need to stop thinking they’re outnumbered and outgunned. We’ve got evidence, science, the arts, EVERYTHING going for us. Let’s get business to recognize our power and start building funds for campaigns!

    Why don’t we flex that political muscle people!?

    Just know that you’re not the only one who sees through the Pew poll, and you are not alone in the idea that atheists ARE electable…

  • JD

    Clearly, it’s an exaggeration to say atheists are unelectable, but that doesn’t mean it’s far from the truth. I’m pretty sure elected office is one of those places where atheists are very underrepresented.

  • JMQuinn

    Maybe atheists are too rational to want a job in politics? Politicians are trusted less than used car salesmen. The whole process of running for office requires one to constantly raise money. If elected to higher office, such as Congress, there is an entrenched hierarchical network where you play by the rules. I can just imagine an atheist objecting to Congress opening with a prayer on the first day. :) Word is the Dems are throwing Anthony Weiner under the bus because he didn’t raise his allotted $200,000 for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

    Both Ron Reagan, Jr. and Brad Pitt have said they couldn’t get elected to office because they are atheists. But, I bet if they ran they would win because people already think they “know” them. Besides who wouldn’t want to vote for Brad Pitt!

    PS. Rand Paul’s first name is Randal.

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  • http://robindrewucgq.onsugar.com/ Sherril Paschall

    It will certainly end up being pretty intriguing to find out if Romney may draw off of the particular Republican nomination this particular year. The particular only point in which worries me personally right now is you can find so lots of prospects right now.