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Do you have a religious litmus test?

Unless you recently awoke from hibernation, if you’re American, you’re probably aware there’s an election coming up pretty soon.  As a result, you’ve likely given at least some thought to whom you’ll vote for and why.  As for myself, I live in a part of the country where the election of a particular candidate is pretty much already a foregone conclusion, but that hasn’t prevented me from indulging the voter impulse and contemplating how I would vote too.

One of the considerations I struggle with is to what extent do I consider a candidate’s religious views – or lack thereof.  As an atheist, I’m inclined to look upon atheist politicians more favorably than those who seemingly wear religion on their sleeves.  Yet, suppose the former holds positions I for the most part disagree with, while the latter expresses policy preferences broadly in alignment with my own?  Whom do I choose?

I, like probably most atheists, would hold my nose while voting for the religious candidate.  The reason is that, on balance, I see the atheist candidate with the disagreeable positions as more likely harmful to my own well-being and that of the country’s.  God-belief isn’t much concerned with pressing issues like the economy, health care, debt, and Social Security, so the candidates’ religious views just don’t rise all that high on the scale of importance.

Where I see the candidates as nearly equal with respect to my own political views, I’m more likely to seriously consider a candidate’s religious views, but it would be among a host of other influences.  For example, I view single party control of the executive and legislative branches as generally something to be avoided, so the candidate of the “party in power” is less likely to get my vote.

In sum, a candidate’s broader economic and political viewpoint trumps religious belief in my book.  I say this as a committed atheist.  What about my opposite, the True Believer?  Would they agree?

The likelihood is that they wouldn’t, according to a 2007 Gallup poll.  A slim majority – but a majority nonetheless – would not vote for a generally well-qualified atheist for president, even if it was their own party’s nominee.  The picture changes when you break it down by political outlook, with only about a third of conservatives voting for an atheist, compared to two-thirds for liberals and about half for moderates.  The figures should be taken with a grain of salt, however.  For instance, 80% of conservatives ended up voting for the candidate who was 72 years of age in the 2008 presidential election (McCain), though only 63% of them reported they would in the poll.

As I noted above, none of this cogitating will produce any practical action since I don’t have the choices in this election others have.  But what about you?  Are religious views important in your decision to vote for a particular candidate?