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More Americans willing to vote for an atheist president

Amy Davis Roth's homemade ceramic line called "Surlyramics" highlight s the idea of atheism and the atheist scarlet "A". RNS photo by Ronda Churchill

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WASHINGTON (RNS) Atheists are still the most mistrusted group in the U.S., and a godless politician is still the least likely candidate to win votes in a presidential election.

Amy Davis Roth's homemade ceramic line called "Surlyramics" is shown during The Amazing Meeting convention at the Southpoint Hotel-Casino on Friday July 13, 2012, in Las Vegas, Nev. Surlyramics specializes in homemade pendants many of which highlight the idea of atheism and the atheist scarlet "A".

Amy Davis Roth’s homemade ceramic line called “Surlyramics” is shown during The Amazing Meeting convention on July 13, 2012, in Las Vegas. Surlyramics specializes in homemade pendants, many of which highlight the idea of atheism and the atheist scarlet “A.” Religion News Service photo by Ronda Churchill

But atheist leader Todd Stiefel is celebrating “a lot of hope” in the fine print of a new Pew Research survey on political leanings.

True, 53 percent of Americans said they are least likely to choose a candidate who doesn’t believe in God, according to a survey conducted in April. But in 2007, that number was 63 percent.

And those who said a candidate’s lack of belief didn’t matter to their vote rose, from 32 percent in 2007 to 41 percent today.

Only two other categories of candidates showed a sharper shift toward more favorable views: gay or lesbian candidates, and candidates over age 70.

Stiefel — still dismayed that even pot smokers or philanderers were viewed more favorably than atheists — predicted Tuesday (May 20) that the shift will be even greater as more unbelievers come out of the closet.

Earlier this month he announced the formation of Openly Secular, a new coalition of several secular, atheist and even interfaith groups that will launch a campaign in September to combat discrimination. The main idea is to urge atheists to go public. It will stress that atheists share American common values and “believe in acceptance, reason and love.”

But Stiefel, a North Carolina millionaire who has supported several atheist causes, remains troubled by the majority who would spurn an atheist politician. “That’s a striking number in a country where there is not supposed to be a religious test for public office,” he said.

A 2006 study by University of Minnesota sociologist Penny Edgell found atheists were the most mistrusted minority in the U.S. Edgell said Tuesday that an updated study based on a 2014 online survey would be released soon. Preliminary results show the mistrust meter hasn’t budged.

Atheists stay hidden because “we are seen as immoral, without fear of hell or hope of heaven,” Stiefel said. The “Out” campaign is modeled on the tactic gay groups used to make people aware that they already knew, liked, even loved, people who are LGBT.

Alec Tyson, research associate at Pew Research Center, said the Pew survey did not ask people whether they had close friends or family who are atheist.

Tyson said the trends that may have had an impact on the shift include changing U.S. demographics. Since 2007, more young adults — who are statistically the least religious — have entered the age range of surveys of U.S. adults, coupled with a downshift in older, more conservative adults.

Other social shifts may also have had an effect. Recent Pew surveys have shown more people say that churches should stay out of politics and that there is “too much religious expression” by politicians.

“This is consistent with people finding religion matters less in politics,” said Tyson.


About the author

Cathy Lynn Grossman

Cathy Lynn Grossman specializes in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics. She also writes frequently on biomedical ethics and end-of-life-issues


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  • Americans have already voted many times for Presidents who were atheists, albeit atheists in the closet. Most of those who rise to be the President of our great nation are intelligent men. Men who not only know that religion is a myth, but know it’s usefulness to control the masses, and that professing their true beliefs would only result in not being elected to office. They play the same game, and lie to themselves, just like many others who profess to believe do. Ironically they profess to believe in a religion that claims the moral high ground, while at the same time lacking the moral honesty to profess what they really believe. Is it a shame, or is it sham? I guess both really.

  • Of course we have already had Atheist Presidents.
    There is a lot of evidence we have one now in Barack Obama.

    And why not?
    This is all we can hope to get from Theology:

    It is true.
    No it isn’t.
    It is.
    No it isn’t.
    It is.
    No it isn’t……

    And it can be used for all sorts of phantoms in the meantime:


    Even if the occasional religious person acted morally it will be used immorally more often by those they indoctrinate. Religion must be abandoned.

  • What this country desperately needs is a leader that is “virtuous”. We are seriously lacking that now. I have to agree with Athiest Max, our current president claims to be a Christian, but his actions, being pro-abortion and anti-religion (going after a group of nuns who serve the poor?) tell a different story.

  • An atheist president? Only if the Democrats get so bold as to nominate one, since the Greens won’t ever get theirs elected.

  • You should be the spokesman for a new atheist advertising campaign. Your tagline should be something like: Atheism – guaranteed to never hold you at night, but keep you as cold as dead.

  • The Atheist has family and friends and neighbors.
    We “do unto others as we would have done unto us” – The Golden Rule needs no gods and predates Mohammed and Jesus by thousands of years.

    In the meantime religion divides, abuses and kills.
    What you think of as a comfort is in truth the dumbest, deadliest thing on earth.

  • Obama has denounced the Bible and called it out as nonsense.
    He clearly believes none of it.

    Like the FOUNDERS OF THE UNITED STATES: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson… Obama attacks it fundamentally.

    “Even if we had only Christians in our midst, if we expelled
    every non-Christian from the United States of America,
    whose Christianity would we teach in the schools?

    “Would it be James Dobson’s or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK – and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith. Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application.

    “So before we get carried away, let’s read our Bibles now. Folks haven’t been reading their Bibles.”
- President Obama, 2006

    Obama sees the Old Testament as ridiculous and unworthy of ‘worship’ JUST AS AN ATHEIST would.
    The Old Testament is 3/4 of the entire Bible.
 Jesus was a misunderstood, apocalyptic preacher if the Old Testament is as ridiculous as Obama paints it.

    Obama’s quip about the Sermon on the Mount speaks
    to the spectacular incoherence within its contradictory messages.

    I’d put all my money on Obama being a non-believer. He’s much too smart for religious nonsense.

  • @Brian,

    If Honesty is a virtue, Atheism is the virtuous position.
    The Theist claims: “I KNOW God exists, I know which one is the true God and I KNOW what he wants me to do for Him.”

    The Atheist says: “I honestly do not believe in God”

    The Theist claims to KNOW what he cannot know.
    Only one of these positions is honest. It is the Atheist.

  • One problem with the word “atheist” is that it reveals only one thing that the person does not believe but says nothing whatever about what the person does believe. The term “naturalistic humanist” or just “humanist” is a far better term and stands for something positive. Some outspoken “atheists” do not support religiously neutral public education, reproductive choice, peace, dealing with climate change, or altruism. The word “atheist” too often gets in the way of cooperation by people of diverse theological positions but who can and should come together on many issues of importance. — Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty (

  • Let me add that labels can be very deceptive. Labels like Catholic, Methodist, Jew, Baptist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, etc can each cover a wide range of views on religious, political, social, philosophical and other matters. And we should not let labels get in the way of people working together on common causes. — Edd Doerr

  • But the genetic superlative exists my friend, and has existed since the very beginning….Genetic science proves it, since all of our negatives in both health, intelligence or the lacking there of,as well as personality, and all others,..have been linked back to mutated genes. You see, there was a time when our blood line existed prior to the mutation..each mutation minus a step back closer toward the original superlative…..You have heard of the chicken or the egg, the tree or the seed, the baby or the adult, which came first type questions, haven’t you? Well the obvious logical answer is that all life was introduced from somewhere else by the original superlative! ….And the lie of evolution….could never happen…evolution does not stand up to logical formula….One simply cannot have an original inferior and a continual ascendancy into a superlative, at random chance and without any outside intelligent intervention….Any element left to random chance would simply mutate into an advance in one moment, then back into it’s inferior the next….On THE CONTRARY…One could have an original superlative and a continual line of descendant into an inferior…and that is exactly what i am proposing is happening to all of mankind…he is desending into the intellectual and physical realm of beasts…because today those of his species who are closest to the original superlative are cross breeding with those of whom are farthest away….thus the entire human species exists in a state of continuing corruption…

  • @STEVE,

    All you have done here is expose your lack of knowledge about Evolution.

    1. Evolution is a fact. (Ask devout Christian, Dr. Francis Collins)
    2. Evolution is logical. (Read the book, Origin of the Species)
    3. Evolution is provable.(DNA alone proves it to be true)
    4. Evolution is predictive (Chromosome 2)
    5. Evolution is relentless.(We can see it in bacteria right now)
    6. Evolution is the first lesson in science so you
    Are revealing only one thing: you don’t know what
    Science is.

    Examine yourself. Think about why you are resisting Science.
    Ask yourself why you are motivated to resist this data.
    Ask yourself who taught you to ignore information and then walk away satisfied that you had enough information.
    Only a religious person would tell you to stop thinking.
    Only a religious instructor or preacher would want you to shut off an entire world of Science.

    Your resistance of Science should be a wake-up call not only to yourself, but to all Christians who read your post.

    Your anti-evolution argument is an indictment of the damaging ignorance radiating from cesspools of RELIGION.

  • @Edd Doerr,

    You make a very good point. Labels do not explain what someone believes necessarily.

    Yes, “ATHEIST” is misunderstood.
    ATHEISM is not a claim that God is impossible.
    ATHEISM is just a lack of belief in gods – it is the OPINION that no God appears to exist.

    Many ATHEISTS are AGNOSTIC as in ‘unsure’ of whether god exists.
    But that doesn’t mean they are ready to believe in one.

    Making sure the world is safe for Atheism
    has become a priority of many Atheists.

  • And you wonder why atheists are the most mistrusted group in America? Just about every post here from the atheists is mean spirited, narrow minded, self important and as full of statements of “faith” as any holy roller. We don’t trust you not because we think you have no morals (we just worry that they are ad hoc and individual) but because the face you show us pretty nasty, that much anger and meanness can’t really be all that good for society.

  • @Mark S,

    What is more mean spirited than this?

    “Jesus had to suffer and bleed to death to spill his blood on the ground
    because his father would not save humanity unless the blood came out. When Jesus stopped breathing the world was saved because the blood hit the ground with the right amount of agony to satisfy his father.”

    We Atheist are confronted with this logic
    and we simply can not believe it to be true.

    Our morality is not “ad hoc”, for goodness sake.
    It is as old as the Golden Rule and it does not differ
    from your morality in the least.

    ATHEISTS have the same morality as every other normal person.
    Morality does not come from religion – religion gets morality from humans.

    You should learn about Atheism before you knock it.
    ATHEISM is the only hope for the world.

  • I will not vote for anyone in the political field since I am a theocrat (for God’s rule instead of man’s rule) and don’t belong to any political party. I do, however, give my entire allegiance, respect and support to God and his Kingdom or heavenly government of which his son, Jesus Christ is King. God has allowed man to rule over man for centuries, giving them all an opportunity to try different forms of government. Yes, time proves all things, and as the Bible so aptly puts it: Ecclesiastes 8:9: “All of this I have seen, and I applied my heart to every work that has been done under the son, during the time that MAN HAS DOMINATED OVER MAN TO HIS INJURY.” This has definitely been proven to be a fact. I am looking forward to the millenial rule of God’s kingdom by Jesus in the near future, and when man’s rule over man will be done away with (Daniel 2:44).

  • Keep hoping buddy. It hasn’t happened in the last 2000 years and it won’t happen any time soon. Just ask yourself this, when has religion solved a problem? When did religion figure out cell theory? Or atom theory? If god is all knowing, why shouldn’t his book tell us about these things? That would obviously make me believe. It doesn’t though. It just says something about the authenticity of a Bronze Age story collected from Stone Age Myths.

  • Yes, of course, religions should stay out of politics and conflicts entirely. They should instead promote peace, reading the Bible, meditating on it, and apply it in their daily lives. But religions have been involved with politics and wars for centuries; others have even misrepresented God, his personality and his purposes for mankind. The time will come when Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion, referred to as a harlot from having a very close paramour with politics, will be turned upon by her close companion and receive her due judgment from God. It’s only God’s kingdom or heavenly government that will bring grand blessings to mankind, and not by any religious or political systems (Daniel 2:44; Revelation 17:1-6; Revelation 18:1-10).

  • Yes, thank God that I don’t vote for politicians; besides that, it wouldn’t make any difference if I did (still remaining corrupt, selfish and greedy). Also, I’m sure God appreciates my support and love for him, especially when this old system of things goes down!! ;-D Who will atheists go to for protection when all of that happens? 1 John 2:17: “Furtermore, the world is passing away, and so is its desires, but he that does the will of God remains forever.”

  • Maybe if bible thumpers would respect our laws and democratic institutions, they would not draw so much justified ire.

    Maybe if churches weren’t so prolific in extolling ignorance, mednacity, and hatred they might get a little more respect from others. I see more of that than I ever do of alleged Christian love of thy neighbor.

    You may THINK atheists lack morals, but atheists KNOW Christians lack them. Christian morality is a contradiction in terms. Any and all malicious and harmful behavior is excused by a Christian if they claim to be doing so in God’s name.

  • “mean spirited, narrow minded, self important and as full of statements of “faith” …….. sounds just like every Christian after a deadly tornado, “I just thank God that I’M alright and it didn’t get my house”. As if they were chosen to be saved while God destroys and takes the lives of others. He must hate them to kill them…… but then again that’s a very common occurrence in the bible.
    I’ve had the fortune/misfortune to have been raised and grown up in a split household, going to both Catholic and Christian churches, and to have studied the bible(s), including the conveniently forgotten Old Testament. I also grew up beli3ving and being intrigued by science. 25years ago I let go of the fantasy world of religion, and can honestly say, life is much better without all the threats of violence or eternal damnation, or being made to feel guilty because someone killed their own child for ME! Pretty doggone arrogant I’d say.

  • Fran,
    I could burn a bible and it would make no difference to me. However over respect to my fellow humans (many of which are sadly still blinded by religion) I will not.
    Your threats of judgment and wrath are exactly the reason many are turning towards athiesm. Not only does it just sound absolutely ridiculous but why would we want to waste of our precious time here worrying about that. The second coming is a myth and will never happen much like the first coming did not happen.
    I just want you to know that life is much better without religion. It’s like quitting smoking. I have even joked (with a large portion of seriousness) that religion should be illegal until one is 21 or old enough to drink. If that was the case I think we could do away with it much faster and get on with taking care of each other and our precious planet which gives us life.

  • Yes, please. I’m not an atheist, but I want my president to be. Any single religion when fused with our government is a bad thing, because we are a nation of many religions.

    Also, since the laws of science and reality are secular in nature, we’d be best off with an atheistic, and therefore secular president. I’m tired of elected officials praying for rain at stadiums, that is freaking pathetic.

  • I am an atheist. But I do not like to describe myself by saying what I am not. For example, gay guys do not describe themselves as ‘non-vagina likers’. I prefer to say what I am, but such groups are ill defined…humanist…rationalist. I think that such an identity needs to be promoted and unified before the movement can really take off.

  • I consider myself a spiritual person,but not at all religious,and the two are not synonymous. I know many very spiritual people who have never set foot inside a house of worship,and know many “religious’ people who don’t have a spiritual or compassionate bone in their body. (Pat Robertson is a good example) I am a Pantheist. We believe that God(spirit0 is in everything and everything is OF God. Unlike Christians,we do not try to separate the Creator from his creatures order to justify trashing the planet,or killing other creatures for fun.You see, spirituality is a gift. Religion is man made, by people(mostly Christians) who have made God over into THEIR image,in order to fit a political agenda.