What DNC WikiLeaks email on Sanders’ religion reminds us about atheists in America

Americans dislike atheists. In fact, there are few groups they dislike more.

Photo by Dave Riggs via Flickr creative commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/driggs/6566308/

A Democratic National Committee (DNC) email shows that Bernie Sanders religion (or lack thereof) was raised by top DNC officials. It wasn’t that Sanders is Jewish. The question was whether Sanders was actually a closet atheist.

It was a reminder of the strong dislike of atheists in America.

The May 5, 2016 DNC email was sent by CFO Brad Marshall to CEO Amy Dacey, communications director Luis Miranda, and deputy communications director Mark Paustenbach:

Subject: No shit

It might may no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.

Dacey responded with one word: “AMEN”

Politico reports that Marshall has wrote an apology on his private Facebook page. Marshall said he regretted his “insensitive, emotional emails” (full apology here).

Raising a candidate’s religion or questioning his or her faith is beyond the pale. One reason the email is so damning (pun intended) is that atheists are among the least-liked groups in America. There is a wide gap between public opinion toward Jews and feelings for atheists.

How much are they disliked? The average American feels warmer toward Congress than toward atheists. That’s as low as you get in public opinion.


In 2012 the American National Election Study asked about atheists. People disliked atheists – no, they REALLY disliked atheists.

To understand how poorly the public feels toward atheists, you need to understand that while feeling thermometers technically range from zero to one hundred, the average rating doesn’t go nearly that high or that low.

The highest an average feeling thermometer goes is about 80. That’s the score “the military” received in the 2012 ANES.

If the military is the ceiling, Congress is the floor.

In survey after survey, Congress scores low on feeling thermometers. In 2012, Congress received an average score of only 42.

Atheists, however, were a good notch lower, with a score of only 38.

They scored lower than “illegal immigrants” and the “federal government in Washington.”

To put it bluntly: feelings toward atheists are the new low in public approval.

The DNC email suggests bringing up Sanders’ beliefs. Jews may not be viewed as highly as generic Christians, but they are still rated highly—often higher than specific religious groups like evangelicals or Catholics. If Sanders was pegged as an atheist, then he would have been viewed much more negatively.

Portions of this column were published earlier.

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