Gallup: 54% of Americans Would Vote for an Atheist for President

By Terence P. Jeffrey | June 22, 2012 | 2:23 PM EDT

President Barack Obama's hand rested on President Abraham Lincoln's Bible as he took the oath of office. (AP Photo)

( - A majority of Americans now say they would vote for an atheist for president of the United States if their political party nominated one, says a new Gallup poll.

Between June 7-10, Gallup asked 1,004 American adults about whether they would vote or not vote for someone based on their religion, race or sexual orientation. Specifically, relevant to atheism, Gallup asked: “Between now and the 2012 political conventions, there will be discussion about the qualifications of presidential candidates--their education, age, religion, race, and so on. If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be an atheist, would you vote for that person?”

Fifty-four percent of respondents said, yes, they would vote for an atheist for president if their party nominated one. Forty-three percent said they would not.

The willingness of Americans to elect an atheist president has increased dramatically over the last six decades. In 1958, when Gallup first asked about an atheist presidential candidate, only 18 percent said they would vote for one, while 75 percent said they would not.

The first time Gallup ever found a majority of Americans ready to vote for an atheist for president was in a survey conducted last Aug. 4-7. In that poll, 52 percent said they would vote for an atheist and 46 percent said they would not.

According to the Gallup survey, Democrats (58 percent) and Independents (56 percent) would be more likely to vote for an atheist if their party nominated one than Republicans (48%) would.

Also, younger people are far more likely than older people to say they would vote for an atheist nominated by their party. Among 18 to 29 year olds, 70 percent say they would vote for an atheist. That falls to 56 percent among 30 to 49 year olds, 48 percent among 50 to 64 year olds, and 40 percent among those 65 or older.

John Trumbull's "Declaration of Independence"

In 1776, when the founders of the United States declared their independence from England they said: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." At the conclusion of the document, they said: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

In his presidential Farewell Address, George Washington, who had served both as commander of the Continental Army and as president of the Constitutional Convention, said that religion was “indispensible” to the nation's political prosperity.

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports,” said Washington.

“In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens,” he said. “The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

“It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,” said Washington. “The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?”

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