Since 2007

One hopeful sign:

The good news for nonbelievers is that, for the first time ever, more than half the American population would vote for a qualified, open atheist for president.  A recent Gallup poll shows that 54 percent of Americans would not consider a candidate’s atheism to be a disqualification for holding the nation’s highest office.

This shows remarkable progress, a nine-point increase from 2007

From 2007. Really. What’s been going on between 2007 and now? Hmm.

[Thinks hard.]

Climate change? The Great Economic Meltdown? Obama in place of Bush?

Those could all have something to do with it. Or not. Worries about coastal cities and famines, and about bankruptcy and penury, could prompt disillusion with the whole idea of a just god, but they could also prompt reliance on a god who works in mysterious ways but makes everything ok in the end, whatever the end may be.

Another thing that’s been going on between 2007 and now is ever-increasing discussion of atheism and the reasons for atheism – or, to put it another way, new and gnu atheism.

Which we are often told “doesn’t work” and is “counter-productive”…but maybe that turns out not to be true. I don’t know, of course; correlation is not causation, so I don’t know that the open discussion of atheism and its reasons played any part in the remarkable progress since 2007. I don’t know, but it does seem quite likely. We’re out there, we’re visible and vocal, we’re pointing out obvious facts about the non-availability of god, so it seems quite likely that that has made at least some difference.

Check back in 2017.


  1. Uncle Glenny says

    Another thing that’s been going on between 2007 and now is ever-increasing discussion of atheism and the reasons for atheism – or, to put it another way, new and gnu atheism.

    Which we are often told “doesn’t work” and is “counter-productive”…but maybe that turns out not to be true.

    I think it’s necessary to have the open discussion, even if some see it as offensive or shrill, which helps shift the overton window and makes discussion even possible.

    I’d liken this, to a degree, to the development of gay rights; I’m hardly a historian on this but the development of ACT-UP and Queer Nation seemed to me to be necessary to some visibility, as offensive as some may have found it. (Some … irony? … that in multiple blogs the topic of the Catholic Church’s stance on condoms has just been mentioned.)

    Queer Nation, btw, spawned Queer Planet, which pressured Amnesty International. I don’t know much of what happened other than I took care of having thousands of postcards printed and distributed in the Boston area, and the campaign was grudgingly successful.

  2. says

    Yup. That’s what I was thinking. I don’t know, because what causes shifts of that kind is wildly complicated, but it seems plausible that while some people are “offended” etc etc, others are simply nudged along the road of “meh, they’re just people like other people, not weird aliens with sparks coming out of their heads.”

  3. Paul W., OM says

    It’s interesting how strongly age is associated with distrust of atheists.

    In their youngest age group, 70 percent would vote for an atheist for president. In the oldest, only 40 percent would. (And the association is fairly linear, with monotonic 6 or 8 point differences between the 4 adjacent groups.)

    That means for each year older, people are on average about two thirds of one percent less accepting.

    That generational/cohort effect is not big enough to account for a 9 percent shift—it’d only account for about 3 percent, so there’s another 6 percent to be explained.

    The easy explanation is that across the board, people are about 6 percent more accepting of atheists due to individuals have changing their views, in just 5 years.

    If true, that’s awesome.

    I’m a little leery of taking that at face value, though. I wonder if there’s a blip of some sort.

    One sort might be that Romney changes the meaning of “would you vote for an X?” this year.

    It may be that in previous years, people understood the question in a shallow way, such that if they’d prefer not to vote for an X, they’d just go ahead and say no, they “wouldn’t” vote for an X.

    This year, a lot of people may realize they would vote for people they’d prefer not to—e.g., an American Mormon conservative over a Kenyan muslim communist—and interpret the question differently.

    I think it’s likely that the shift is real, but I’m just not sure.

  4. anthrosciguy says

    Overton window, I’m betting. You have people with no direct exposure to gnu atheists, who would say that Dawkins and PZ are extreme and nasty (PZ especially probably gets people think he’s a fire-breathing desk-pounder in speeches, unless they actually see him talk). So they’re against those atheists, but young Johnny from next door, who comes back from college as an out atheist but he still mows old widow Addams’ lawn for free; he’s okay.

    And it goes from there. Pretty much the same as our neighbors thought about long-haired boys in the late 60s — awful, disrepectful, downright nasty… but not the nice Moore boys from next door. Once you start thinking some of them are okay, your prejudice starts breaking down. And one way that prejudice breaks down is thinking that the “other” you personally know or hear is actually quite a lot nicer than the “other” you’ve only heard about thirdhand (Dawkins, PZ, etc.)

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