Rather than devout, Americans prefer their candidates to be "somewhat religious;" more than a third of Americans willing to vote for an atheist

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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