The PJ Tatler

Americans Would Vote for an Atheist Before They Vote for a Socialist

Please, please Democrats — torpedo Hillary’s campaign and nominate the self-described socialist independent from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.

Even before this Gallup Poll was released showing that Americans would be least likely to vote for a socialist compared to religious affiliations or races, it was obvious that Sanders wouldn’t have a prayer in the general election. But it’s clarifying to see that notion vindicated.

Where more than 90% of Americans would vote for a Catholic, a Jew, an Hispanic, or a woman, only 47% would vote for a socialist. Fifty percent said they wouldn’t.

A June 2-7 Gallup poll updated the question — first asked in 1937 — about the acceptability of presidential candidates of various background characteristics. The general trend is that Americans have become significantly more accepting over time.

Among religious identities, while the large majority of Americans would vote for a Catholic or Jewish presidential candidate, smaller majorities say they would vote for a candidate who is Mormon (81%), an evangelical Christian (73%), Muslim (60%) or an atheist (58%).

These dynamics can affect 2016 candidates’ efforts to attract American voters in the upcoming primaries as well as the general election next year, particularly because the field is shaping up as one that will have some diversity in terms of race, gender and, particularly, religion.

Five declared candidates are Catholics — Republicans Jeb Bush, George Pataki, Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum, and Democrat Martin O’Malley. Two are women — Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and Republican Carly Fiorina. Republican Ben Carson is the sole black candidate in the race, while two candidates are Hispanic — Republicans Rubio and Ted Cruz.

Independent Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, is the only Jewish candidate in the race. And while a large majority of Americans are willing to vote for a candidate of his faith, Sanders’ self-identification as a socialist could hurt him, as half of Americans say they would not vote for someone with that background.

In addition, several candidates have heavily courted the evangelical community — including Republicans Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Carson, Santorum and Cruz.

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The cross tabs are fascinating. Take a look at the difference in support for various backgrounds between Democrats and Republicans.

Republicans (84%) are significantly more likely than Democrats (66%) to say they will vote for an evangelical candidate. But Democrats are more likely to say they will vote for a Muslim (73%) or an atheist (64%) than are Republicans, of whom less than half say they are willing to vote for a candidate with either of these belief systems.

Republicans and Democrats differ most in their willingness to vote for a socialist candidate, by 33 percentage points, but socialist ranks last for both parties. The two parties also differ significantly on voting for a gay or lesbian candidate, by 24 points. Majorities of Democrats are willing to vote for a candidate with any of the characteristics mentioned in the poll.

There are no meaningful party differences in willingness to vote for a female, black or Hispanic candidate.

President Obama used the “N” word in a podcast to draw attention to his belief that we have a long way to go in race relations. I’m not disputing that contention. But looking at that first table, I really wish the president would highlight how far we’ve come more often. It is astonishing to me to see the overwhelming majority of Americans who would vote for a black, or a Jew, or a woman, or a Hispanic when the idea of voting for someone with those backgrounds wasn’t even a dream when I was a boy. The president was always going to be a white male and while many believed that in the far future that would change, few would have predicted the possibility in just a couple of generations.

Sometimes, “social progress” has been oversold or worse, politicized and used as a weapon against political opponents. But at a very basic level, it is remarkable what this country has accomplished with regard to race and gender in what is little more than a blink of an historical eye. Within less than a span of one human lifetime, blacks have gone from the back of the bus to Air Force One, women have come out of the kitchen into the boardrooms of our largest corporations, and Hispanics have come out of the shadows to stand front and center in the glare of presidential politics.

Who says America isn’t an exceptional country?