Atheism Should Not Be Feared in Politics

Reader Ben Dreidel wrote this on another forum and I wanted to share it:

I know of 3 instances where atheism was an “issue” in the most recent 2008 election.

First, Pete Stark. He is the first openly atheist member of Congress in U.S. history. The revelation was met mostly with yawns when it happened. This most recent election was his first campaign since outing himself:

Election results
1992 Pete Stark 60.2%
1994 Pete Stark 64.62%
1996 Pete Stark 65.2%
1998 Pete Stark 71.2%
2000 Pete Stark 70.5%
2002 Pete Stark 71.1%
2004 Pete Stark 71.7%
2006 Pete Stark 74.9%
2008 Pete Stark 76.4%

(Link1)
(Link2)

No harm done — quite possibly, a net benefit, as this was his highest % ever.

Second, Kay Hagan. From August 26th up until the election Elizabeth Dole (an incumbent) launched attack after attack on Kay Hagan for attending an ActBlue fundraiser hosted by two board members of the Secular Coalition for America. Kay Hagan took her first lead in polls about the same time. (The polls were released after the press release but I think the data was collected before.) The attacks grew more and more aggressive, culminating in two TV ads, and Hagan’s lead grew and grew.

In the November election, Hagan won by an unexpectedly wide margin, winning 53 percent of the vote to Dole’s 44 percent — the largest margin of victory for a Senate race in North Carolina in 30 years, and the largest margin of defeat for an incumbent Senator in the 2008 cycle.

(Link1)
(Link2)

Third, Rob Sherman. I’m not sure if his status as an atheist activist helped or hurt him. He was running on the Green Party ticket for a state Assembly seat and got 3% of the vote. Someone with local political knowledge would have to tell me if this is more or less than you would expect for a Green party candidate in that area.

(Link)

So: start letting the politicians know that seeking out non-religious voters and appealing to secular values is not only the right thing to do, it’s in their own self-interest.

There was one other election I hadn’t mentioned that might be of interest to atheists. It’s an example of how atheists didn’t come together… though we didn’t really have a choice here.

Remember Illinois State Representative Monique Davis, the woman who said to atheist Sherman: “…it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!”? She was unopposed in her district and won re-election unanimously. She had privately apologized for her statement, but there was still no real damage to her reputation. Hopefully, a more open-minded candidate will run against her in two years.

Your thoughts on all this?

  • http://www.meetup.com/beltwayatheists Shelley Mountjoy

    Pete Stark didn’t really have an opponent this time though… and by that I mean the guy wasn’t serious about campaigning. Did he have a serious opponent in previous elections?

  • Jasen777

    I don’t think anyone knows or cares what a Green Party candidate beliefs are.

  • Shane

    “I don’t think anyone knows or cares what a Green Party candidate beliefs are.”

    Apparently 3% of voters did. Many European countries have serious Green parties. Canada’s green party got 6.8% of the vote last election (but didn’t win any federal seats due to Canada’s particular election system), and the Green leader was allowed in the Federal leader’s debate.

    My point is, that some people do care, and maybe it would be good to care. Not that I actually voted for the Greens this last Canadian election, but can we at least try not to encourage ignorance? People seem to do well enough in that area all on their own.

  • Jasen777

    I’m not encouraging it, merely pointing out the fact. Few people care about 3rd parties and their candidates in the U.S. (It would certainly be extremely difficult to use it to determine how a candidate’s atheism matters to the electorate).

    I’m a Libertarian myself.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ hoverFrog

    A single candidate isn’t statistically significant. Perhaps he is simple very good at his job and people like him and keep voting for him. Perhaps his opponents were just rubbish. Of course, by the time you have enough non-religious candidates standing to measure statistically then religion will be pretty irrelevant to an election. Just like it is in England.

  • http://www.popcorngallery.net Max

    I think something like 15 or 16% of the U.S. population does not identify with any religion. Thats a huge portion of the population that can be harnessed. Not sure what segment of that are full blown heathens though :)

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 benjdm

    Another relevant Kay Hagan article:

    ‘Godless’ ad drove support to Elizabeth Dole’s opponent

    It’s no surprise to Steve Lowe that being an atheist is considered taboo.

    But when Lowe saw Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s “godless” campaign ad, he did something he’d done only once before – he sent money to a political candidate.

    Turns out, Dole’s opponent Kay Hagan got 3,600 contributions within 48 hours of Dole airing of the controversial ad, which centered on Hagan’s attendance at a fundraiser at the Boston home of someone active in the atheist community…

    “I told Hagan’s campaign, ’This is the reason you’re getting money from me. I want you to know this is not hurting you, this has helped you,’” said Lowe, a board member of the Washington Area Secular Humanists who gave $50 to Hagan and phoned Dole, R-N.C., several times to complain.

    The 3,600 donations came from a cross-section of society.

    “We got responses from people who identify themselves as atheists and every religion under the sun who found that ad offensive,” said Hagan spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan, who said the campaign hadn’t yet calculated the dollar figure raised as a result and couldn’t provide an estimate…


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