I’ve blogged a bunch of these Gallup polls over the years and my demographic has always been at the bottom of the barrel preference-wise. But things are improving: In 2007, just 45 percent said they’d vote for an atheist, then last year it crept up to 49 percent. Now we’re over the hump at 54. I wonder why. It’s not like the “new atheism” suddenly exploded onto the national scene over the past six months, and to hear believers tell it, the new atheism is more likely to alienate people than persuade them. Maybe, maybe not. What you’re seeing here, I think, is the fruit of normalization: It’s not so much that people are becoming more sympathetic to atheism (although that might be true) than that, as atheists become more visible culturally, people see for themselves that we’re not that weird or threatening. Acceptance of gays works along the same lines, of course, except that they’re further along than we are. For a vivid illustration of that, follow the Gallup link up top and check out the breakdown among different age groups. Young adults react to gays and atheists similarly; older adults, not so much. Note the trendlines in the table I posted above, too. Thirty-five years ago, atheists held a double-digit lead on this question over gays. Today, the opposite is true.
This isn’t much of a partisan issue, either:
I’d love to see the demographic split on Democrats who would and wouldn’t vote for a nonbeliever. If, say, 90 percent of limousine liberals are willing to vote for an atheist, how low must the percentage be among blue-collar Dems? Ah well. Suffice it to say, it’s still risky even for a secretly atheist liberal pol to admit his lack of faith publicly.
Oh, and as for the elephant in the room, 24 percent of Democrats admit that they won’t vote for a Mormon versus just 10 percent of Republicans who say so. Overall, 18 percent of adults say they wouldn’t; a year ago, it was 22 percent. The reason that number has shrunk is almost entirely due to GOPers becoming more comfortable with a Mormon nominee as Romney advanced through the primaries. Last year, 80 percent of Republicans said they’d be willing to vote for a Mormon. This year, 90 percent say so. Mitt’s made a difference to future elections even if he doesn’t win this one.