For the first time ever, a majority of Americans would now vote for a qualified presidential candidate who is an atheist. Fifty-four percent said so in a Gallup poll published last month. The poll seems to indicate that today’s secular movement, though still flying under the radar of many Americans, is producing results. The United States is witnessing a growing, empowered nonreligious demographic.
According to the American Religious Identification Survey, about 15 percent of Americans identify as “none” when asked for religious identity, almost double the number who did so in 1990. Thus, the improved prospects of a theoretical atheist presidential candidate — up from only 18 percent when the question was first asked in 1958 — reflects progress for America’s secularists.
This newfound tolerance for secularity is reaching the highest levels. President Barack Obama has included nonbelievers several times in his description of American pluralism, including a direct reference in his inaugural address. Secular groups also scored a victory in 2010 when they met with White House officials to discuss policy issues of concern to them — the first such official recognition of American nonbelievers ever.
Still, one thing remains constant: atheists remain the minority for whom the smallest number of Americans would vote. Some 80 percent of respondents said they would vote for a Mormon, 68 percent for a gay or lesbian, and 58 percent for a Muslim.
Like it or not, America’s influence on international politics cannot be ignored, and until America accepts non-believers and panders less to its theistic citizens, secularism everywhere will continue to be an uphill struggle.