Rather than devout, Americans prefer their candidates to be "somewhat religious;" more than a third of Americans willing to vote for an atheist
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
According to a new Pew polling analysis, religion is not proving to be a clear-cut positive in the 2008 presidential campaign. According to Pew, candidates viewed by voters as the least religious among the leading contenders are the current front-runners for the Democratic and Republican nominations - Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, respectively. On the other hand, the candidate seen as far and away the most religious - Mitt Romney - is handicapped by this perception because of voter concerns about Mormonism. In all, according to the analysis, it is far better for a candidate to be preferred as "somewhat religious" rather than extreme in their faith.
Many Americans are even willing to vote for an atheist, with slightly more than a third of respondents saying that if a candidate "doesn't believe in God," it would make little difference to their vote. While it is true that a hypothetical atheist candidate rates poorly in comparison to other religious minority groups such as Mormons and Muslims, it's hard to forecast what actual public opinion would be if a strong and charismatic non-religious leader were to step into a major political race. The key for this leader would be to reach across faith groups, accenting common goals and values. Time will tell, hopefully.
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