An Updated 2012 Presidential Candidate Scorecard… for Atheists

Late last year, the Secular Coalition for America put out a scorecard for the major party presidential candidates. There were more Fs floating around than you would hear from sailors at the DMV (though Jon Hunstman didn’t fare too badly):

Now, the SCA has released an updated scorecard (PDF) for the major party candidates: Barack Obama (Democrat), Mitt Romney (Republican), Gary Johnson (Libertarian), and Jill Stein (Green):

… the Secular Coalition for America presents the 2012 Presidential Election Scorecard which scores the positions of the candidates for the office of President of the United States in five areas and on 17 specific issues. The candidates who appear on the Secular Coalition for America’s scorecard are those who appear on the ballot in enough states to amass the required 270 electoral votes to be elected President of the United States.

Here’s the overall breakdown (click to enlarge):

Johnson gets a B, Obama a C, Romney an F, and Stein an Incomplete.

In all three areas where Romney and Obama differ the most, Obama comes away with As while Romney gets Fs: Recognition of the U.S. as a secular nation, Separation of church and state, and Use of religious beliefs to determine public health care policy.

The only areas where Romney gets a grade higher than a C are his willingness to appoint a nontheist (to his cabinet) and his support of science-based public school curriculums.

What do I take away from this?

Jill Stein would be a great candidate… if there was any real hope of her winning. But, just like Johnson, there isn’t.

If you’re a Secular American who cares about separation of church and state and keeping religion out of politics, Romney shouldn’t even be in your radar.

Obama doesn’t come away as very impressive, but if you believe (like I do) that he’s mostly using religion as a tool for pandering to the masses, then he’s the obvious choice. I’m still disappointed in the way he pushes religion over non-religion in things like the faith-based initiatives (allowing religious groups to discriminate in their hiring), but that’s a fight we can continue to have in his next term.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Wangerin/1463213471 Jim Wangerin

    Santorum gets a C on attitude towards non-theists?  How is that not an F?

    • C Peterson

      He only believes in life imprisonment for atheists, not the death penalty.

      • Antinomian

        Plus eternity in H E double hockey sticks..

  • Littleboybrew

    Obama gets an ‘A’ for separation of church and state?  I don’t see it.

    • viddy_well

      From the full scorecard, these are the quotes they used to make that assessment.

      Obama: “Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”

      Obama: “The constitutional principle of a  separation between church and state has served our nation well since our founding— embraced by people of faith and those of no faith at all throughout our history— and it has been paramount in our work.”

      • Littleboybrew

        Obama: “The constitutional principle of a  separation between church and
        state has served our nation well since our founding— embraced by people
        of faith and those of no faith at all throughout our history— and it
        has been paramount in our work.”

        -except for faith based initiatives

  • http://www.facebook.com/azphilosopher Art Martin

    I concur with your assessment.  I tend to believe that in today’s USA, any person wishing high office, must pretend to be a Christian no matter what their actual beliefs.  Based on things I’ve read, his actions, his family history, etc., I think Barack Obama is probably not very religious, possibly even a closet atheist.  The places where he exudes religiosity seem to have little consequence on our daily lives.  They are just enough to keep the cover story going.  Maybe that’s wishful thinking but I think we have at least another decade before an open atheist/agnostic can be elected to really high office in this country.  I’m hoping we already have one.

  • Dave

    Whether Obama is religious or just pretending to be shouldn’t enter into the equation.  Whatever he’s pretending to be, he has to keep that pretense up.  I refuse to vote for a “C” or an “F” this time around. 

  • Sergio Castro

    I should hope that we  vote on more than just one area of concern. Seriously, a Presidential Candidate’s support of secular attitudes is not the main reason I choose to vote for or against him.

    With the issues we have in this country and around the world, there are much more important things the next President should be concerning himself with.

    • Greisha

       Actually it is.  I think we need a president who uses reasons not some wacky beliefs when makes decisions about life and death.

      If president seriously believes in upcoming end of the world or God’s promise not to create the new flood, what policy and decisions we can expect.

  • http://v1car.wordpress.com/ The Vicar

    Okay, now, wait: is this entirely based on what the candidates say? Because, quite frankly, Obama can’t possibly rate above a “D+” based on his actions, and anyone who has paid attention to Stein in the slightest knows she is the only candidate who actually merits an “A” on the basis of statements alone.

    If this is just “we sent the candidates a questionnaire, and here’s how we rate how they responded” or even “we looked at the candidates’ platforms as stated on their websites and this is how we think they line up”. This strikes me as lazy, extremely dubious, and overall worthless as a voting guide.

  • garthhh

     At this point, the entire government (at least on the federal level) has boiled down to lobbyists writing the bills and buying the votes, with candidates lying and/or misleading the public. Then they put on their happy Christian smiles and tell everyone that everything is going to be okay. You know, because Jesus would spend 3/4 of a trillion dollars a year on things that go boom and kill people, while systematically portraying the poor and underprivileged as people to blame.

    This election is a sham, Congress is a sham. The Constitution is dead. The founding fathers of this country would be storming the Capitol right now if they were alive. It couldn’t be more clear, this country was founded specifically to separate church and state and to prevent the blatant mistreatment of the masses. So, go vote if it makes you happy. Just know you aren’t really changing anything.

    • Gus Snarp

      Nah, they wouldn’t care so much. When they wrote the Constitution only white male property owners could vote. I don’t think they were as concerned with the masses as we like to imagine. 

  • https://sites.google.com/site/ferulebezelssite/ Ferule Bezel

    I noticed a tendency to grade towards the extremes.  The most clear was giving Gary Johnson an F on the education questions.  They asked about criteria and content and he responded with a canned answer about at what level the decision should be made.  It should have been a C.  Likewise with Obama’s Fs except for the last one.

    I also think grades should be based on actions in office more than questionnaires.

  • Aaron Nye

    I’m still voting for Johnson

  • jose

    Here’s a problem: How do you make a 2 party congress vote for legislation to weaken bipartidism and encourage small parties like the libertarian and the green ones.

    • CelticWhisper

       Vote them out in massive numbers.  My plan, aside from “No Republocrats whenever possible,” is “Vote incumbents out.”

      No matter their party, no matter their voting record (unless it’s very, VERY unusually good), no matter their stated stance or promises on issues, if they’re in office now, vote them out.

      It’s time to remind Congress who they answer to, and the best way to put the fear of the electorate back into Capitol Hill is to start taking jobs away left and right.  Jump in a biplane and dump pink slips down by the bucketful.

      Most, if not all, of the issues that would-be statespeople claim to want to fix fall under the larger issue of “Government that doesn’t give 2/5 of a rat’s ass about the people anymore.”  Voting out massive numbers of Congresspeople will serve as a gauntlet to the face to remind them that we still hold the final cards.

      “But what if the next batch is even worse?”  Vote them out again.  Not only did you do it once (and can thus repeat it), 2 mass firings in a row will really hammer the point home that the people are PISSED.

      Bonus: It’s one thing that just about all the political parties can agree on.

      I just wish that sniveling TSA-apologist worm Jan Schakowsky had someone better than fundie (self-professed!) American-exceptionalist Tim Wolfe running against her.  Telling her to GTFO isn’t going to be as satisfying as it would be if I could vote for another progressive and/or secularist candidate.

      • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine

         You are aware that “voting the incumbents out” is what GOT us this horrible Congress we’ve been stuck with since 2010, right? The Congress that has, since they’ve come in, taken every single opportunity to destroy equality for women they could make, taken every opportunity to singlehandedly destroy our economy, taken every opportunity to deny rights to persons who they should’ve been given to. Hell, this Congress is the one that both wrote a bipartisan veteran’s jobs bill and then murdered it.

        • Patrick

          It wasn’t merely “voting the incumbents out” – there are plenty of third-party candidates to choose from. In 2010 the electorate got half of the message – to vote out incumbents – but forgot the other, crucial part – smash the bipartisan paradigm. Voting out incumbents is but a part of the whole message – reclaim democracy from the establishment.

          • Ammujossy

            i support Romney… he is 100 times better than Obama…. in all ways….Obama cant be the right president candidate for USA….. 

            • Patrick

              Poe or fool, take your pick.

        • CelticWhisper

          Then we vote them out AGAIN and, as Patrick said, make sure to vote third-party.  My 2010 vote was as such – Green, Libertarian or Independent wherever available.  Some positions had no third-party candidate running, and I voted Democrat because I wasn’t so utterly disillusioned with Obama yet (scope-and-grope had only just been instituted a week before at airports, Al-Awlaki hadn’t been assassinated, Occupy hadn’t been persecuted, the Bradley Manning affair either hadn’t begun yet or only recently had, etc.).

          Next time around may be a bit different.  Maybe I’ll leave the field blank if it’s only (D) versus (R).  Maybe I’ll vote for (D)s to replace (R) incumbents, but leave blank for (D) incumbents like Schakowsky to avoid supporting (R) candidates.  Not sure, but the fact that voting incumbents out got us our current Congress is just proof that it CAN bring change – it’s just not the change we intended to bring this time around.

          All we have to do is do it again to say “That’s NOT what we wanted.  Now fuck off back home and let someone else fix your catastrophic failure.”

    • Utmu

      “‘Why
      is legislation to kill the penny being held up in Congress?’ Because if
      the current Congress were actually and physically on fire, they
      couldn’t pass a “Throw Water on Congress” Act.”
      -John Green

  • http://billybobsbibleblog.blogspot.com/ billybobbibb

    If secularism were the only issue upon which to vote, I’d go with Obama.  But Obama’s record on the economy and foreign policy is tragic, so I’ll have to go with either Johnson or (wince) Romney.

    • 3lemenope

      While I intend to vote for Johnson, I’m curious what about Obama’s record on the economy and foreign policy you think are “tragic”.

    • Marco

      Tragic? What is tragic is the treasonous attitude of the republican party immediately after Obama’s win. The guy is barely in office and they already pretty much claim that their main goal is not to work with him to get the country out of the greatest economic disaster since the 30′s but to make him a one term president.

      And then they acted exactly according to that script. 

      In effect, Obama too many of the republic’s ideas, and proposed them as his own. Even the bailouts were started under Bush and continued under Obama. 

      I remember reading that the great depression was exacerbated by the unwillingness of the then government to take action to stimulate the economy. At least until the “new Deal”. This time we did not make that mistake and now, after many years of suffering we have some parvence of normality back. 

      Read the story of the great depression and how long it lasted. It took a world war to get people back to work and that was over 10 years later.I invite everyone to go back to those days in 2008/9 when the very future of the world economy was in jeopardy. What Obama did might not have been the perfect solution to the crisis, but it was better than any alternative. In fact, what alternatives did the republicans proposed? All I remember were criticism and lies. There was no realistic conservative plan to get us out of the economy.

      The closest thing to a plan was a call for letting our industry, saved for Ford, die. 

      Really? Can you imagine a wiped out auto industry in america right now? can you imagine all those jobs (and I am not talking about only GM and Chrysler  but the suppliers, and the subcontractors all out of business.

      The biggest mistake Obama did was not to advertise and explain the necessity of his measure to the american people. That gave the republicans their opportunity to make the president policies look wrong but they never once came up with a credible alternative plan with any substance.

      Obama even took a vision for national health care championed in the past by Newt Gingrich and later made a reality by Romney himself and forced the republicans to repudiate their own long held policy of mandates and privatized national health care.

      Do you think that was a liberal idea? Hell no. That was a conservative plan that Obama took because he figured (as would have anyone living in reality) that the republicans would be forced to support it. Instead  they decide to ignore the existence of youtube and archives and create an alternate reality where Obamacare was a socialist conspiracy. 

      What is really sad is that many have bought it and haven’t been able to see the deception. Even more sad, Obama was unable to build a narrative around it. 

      That was his biggest mistake. His inability to stand behind his accomplishments.

  • Parth Choksi

    “Jill Stein would be a great candidate… if there was any real hope of her winning. But, just like Johnson, there isn’t.”

    That is a sad comment…talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sorry Hemant, but maybe you should seriously consider voting for Stein. I’m not a big fan of Gandhi, but one of his quotes is pretty apt for this situation: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’.

    • Gus Snarp

      It’s not a self-fulfilling prophecy, it’s that the bulk of the American people don’t support Stein. The way to be the change is to work and organize at the local level and try to change minds and build support from the ground up, not to help the person you agree with least to win by casting a protest vote.

      • Parth Choksi

         bulk of American people don’t support Stein…more like most Americans don’t even know about her. But if you do and if you agree with her (it seems Hemant does), then you should definitely vote for her. She might not win, but if she can get a few percents of the vote, people might actually pay attention. On the other hand, if you’re just going to say ‘Oh well, whatever, she’s never going to win anyway. I’ll just vote for Obama since Romney is worse’, then yes, the Green party will due to that mentality never gain any real popularity. So yes, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy in the sense that if you don’t vote for Stein because you don’t think she can win, the Greens will actually never be able to win.

        • Guest

          I see that you clearly do not understand First Past the Post elections and the American Political system.

          • Parth Choksi

            Maybe you should get your eye sight checked then, because you’re definitely not seeing clearly ;)

            I understand the American Political system extremely well, all the more so since I spend my childhood in a country with a multiparty system…which helped me a lot to truly understand what American politics is all about:

            A two party system is not democracy. America is just switching from one party to another, the irony being that in reality beside some social issues, for the most part both parties are the same (basically bought and run by lobbyists).

            The saddest part is that the vast majority of Americans think there’s no point in voting for a third party, because they’ll never win. This is a mentality I’ve seen Hemant express and it’s sad because that mentality is exactly what’s keeping America a two party system (besides the systematic blackballing done).

            And it’s so interesting to see that really the only thing keeping America a two party system in practice is the people themselves. Nations with multiple parties see the rise of new parties all the time. In those countries, people have a different mentality, they’ll vote for the candidate they actually agree with, no matter what the odds. Though then again, in those nations you typically have coalitions running the government, so your vote doesn’t ‘go to waste’.

        • Gus Snarp

          No one will pay attention to the votes she gets. Nader got lots of votes, including mine, in 2000. Since then both parties have only moved farther to the right. Voting third party for president isn’t going to change anything.

          The Tea Party is a better example. It’s been funded and manipulated by outside interests, sure, but it’s also been successful at moving the entire Republican Party to the right by running candidates at a lower level. Turn out some major party candidates in congress and replace them with people who share your views more closely and you can push the whole party. Win a few percent for President and you will be ignored. On a practical level voting for a third party candidate for president who lacks broad support is doing it exactly backwards.

          Of course, I’d also note that where the Tea Party replaced moderate Republican candidates in competitive races they tended to lose to Democrats in the general election. That means you’ve got to win over people and media as well. That’s where change begins.

          • Parth Choksi

             I don’t know if Stein will actually get ignored if she wins a few percents. Sure, a good chunk of Americans will probably never hear of her. But considering the difference in where the US stands now compared to 2000 and as you said, since so both major parties have drifted to the right, I do wonder if more people will pay attention this time around. You might be right though, I’m not just completely convinced because I feel the Green Party’s message resonates more now than ever before (especially compared to when Nader was running).

            However I definitely do agree that working at the local level is needed, I don’t argue against it and I absolutely encourage it.

      • Patrick

        A vote for Obama – in spite of the alternatives – is a vote for the assassination of Americans without trial; a vote for indefinite detention – again, without trial; a vote for historic crackdowns on whistleblowers, despite promises of transparency; a vote for the violation of individual, and states’, rights in besieging legal cannabis dispensaries. If you’re voting for Obama despite your reservations because you think ‘anything is better than Romney’,  surely you must at least concede that ANYTHING is better than extrajudicial execution? If not – if you’re willing to turn a blind eye to such an abuse simply to avoid 4-8 years of a near-identical corporate drone – a serious re-think is in order.

        If this were a religious issue – if we were debating a choice between, for example, fundamentalist, dangerous Christianity and moderate, liberal Christianity – I’m sure you, like most of us here, would choose neither. Who cares if it’s a losing battle in the short term? That doesn’t change the fact that it’s simply wrong – and, in the long run, reason will prevail.

        A vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil, no matter which way you cut it.

        • Gus Snarp

          I’m not voting for Obama because I think anyone is better than Romney, I’m voting for Obama because I think Obama is better than Romney. You can talk about votes for evil all you want, but I’m basically a pragmatist, I deal in real world consequences, and for me to vote for Stein or Johnson is, in the real world, a vote for Romney, a vote for greater evil. I voted Nader in Florida in 2000. I’ve seen the consequences of that, and I won’t do it again. Basically it comes down to this: voting for a third party that isn’t going to win or even do well is not going to change anything. It’s not going to swing the major parties in the direction I want them to go (witness the dems swing to the right after 2000). It’s the wrong approach. We have to win over the people and the media before we have a chance at the White House. We have to win congressional seats at the state and federal level. A green party candidate can’t get elected to city council in most of America, why would we think a national vote for them would be effective? It’s a symbolic vote and nothing more. And if you feel better voting for purity rather than pragmatism, be my guest. Me, I’m pretty sure Gore losing in 2000, partly due to my vote, is as responsible for every civilian killed by the U.S. in the Middle East since than even Obama is. I’ve got more blood on my hands for voting Nader than for voting Obama.

          • CelticWhisper

            I’ve been told the same thing by conservatives – a vote for Stein or Johnson is, in effect, a vote for Obama, so I should really just vote Romney.  So who do I believe?

            No, better to vote my conscience than try to reason out who I’m “really” voting for.  A vote for Stein is a vote for Stein, and a vote for Johnson is a vote for Johnson.  Obama and Romney aren’t entitled to my vote, there is no “otherwise.”

            Besides, if Stein and Johnson are getting BOTH big parties to smear them as “actually a vote for $OPPOSING_PARTY,” then they must be doing something right.

            • Gus Snarp

              It’s pretty simple, whoever your vote would go to if the third party candidate weren’t there is the candidate you are hurting by voting third party.   

        • Greisha

          In politics it is always vote for evil or lesser evil – you probably have not learned it yet.

  • A3Kr0n

    I keep telling people Gary Johnson is the best thing going. And fuck Obama and his murdering drones. You need to declare war before you start killing people. Why is this such a hard concept? Did I say Fuck Obama yet? Yes, I did. Twice.

    • Patrick

      Agreed. A vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil.

      • http://v1car.wordpress.com/ The Vicar

        Gary Johnson is merely the least of 3 evils. Stein is the only one running who isn’t demonstrably evil. (She may actually be evil, but she hasn’t been proven yet, while the others definitely are.) There is nothing about the status quo which Johnson would seriously challenge which he would not make worse; we have all the authoritarian malignance because the very rich and large corporations like authoritarian malignance. Well, Johnson stands for undoing the restraints on the very rich and large corporations. In the long term, that can only make things worse, no matter how much rhetoric is spilled to argue otherwise in the short term.

        • Patrick

          Johnson stands for an end to all wars, foreign and domestic (drug). He would nearly half the defence budget, and make sure the role of the military is just that – defence. He opposes the use of torture and indefinite detention. He is pro-choice and anti-parental consent. He opposes the death penalty and would streamline the immigration process. He does not believe government should be in the business of regulating marriage.He believes it is not the government’s place to pick winners or losers in the market; as such, he is against business subsidies. He opposes both the PATRIOT Act and the TSA. He advocates transparency in elections, whether that be public financing or overturning Citizens United vs. FEC, thus neutering corporations’ influence over politics. He would deliver a balanced budget instead of incurring debt for our children and grandchildren to pay off, and would simplify the tax code. He supports an audit of the Federal Reserve and opposes quantitative easing as artificial inflation. He would hand control of Social Security to the states and supports participants’ right to control how their contributions are invested. He endorses the EPA and free trade, and opposes a mandate on citizens to purchase a private product, such as health insurance, from birth to death, which will inevitably inflate prices and distort the market – a form of subsidy.

          • http://profiles.google.com/bcdurden Brian Durden

            He’s also a Libertarian, meaning his platform doesn’t support women’s rights, probably looks down on the Civil Rights act, is all about the imaginary bootstraps, and doesn’t give two shits about a social contract.

            No thanks.  Please give me a Progressive candidate, not a substitute for Ron Paul.

            • Patrick

              President Obama’s platform doesn’t support the targeted killing of US citizens but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t do it.
              To argue that libertarians don’t support womens’/civil rights is to completely misunderstand what libertarianism is, or means.

      • David Starner

        And voting theory reminds us that a vote for anyone besides Obama or Romney isn’t really a vote. It may send a message, but it is choosing to repudiate any power you actually had to decide who does become president.

        • Patrick

          Choosing between Obama and Romney is choosing the lesser of two evils. A vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil.
          Buying into a two-party system, where the two parties are bought by the same sponsors and differ only in the segment of the population they pay lip service to, is choosing to repudiate any power you ‘actually’ (read – never) had to decide who does become president.
          You’re right, it sends a message. If you’re going to send a message, why not make it the right one?

          • David Starner

            I don’t have the capacity to be that cynical about our current position and yet that optimistic about future positions. If we currently have two copies of the same party, I see no reason to think anything we can do can change that, especially not voting.

        • Amakudari

          No, it’s not. Voting only for a candidate that respects your issues, even if it means passing over one single election is exactly how groups press for certain issues to be addressed. Heck, it’s how Republicans got elected in ’04, by recognizing the willingness of a voting bloc to only make it to the polls if a gay marriage ban were on offer.

          Gay marriage bans pass easily in liberal states like California, the wars are deeply unpopular but ongoing, marijuana liberalization is slow-going despite majority support. Why? Look at whom these issues turn out and whether they’re willing to stay at home.
          I’ll be voting for Democrat or Republican the second I see a better position on how many people we should be killing and what authority the president has. Both parties have supported the president’s right to engage in war without Congressional support and order extrajudicial killings of American citizens.Yes, I’m advocating compromise and maybe voting for a lesser evil. I disagree with third-party-only voters (and only begrudgingly agree with principled non-voters that a single vote doesn’t matter). But I disagree with reliable straight-ticket Republicans and Democrats just as much.

  • Patrick

    Hemant, while it’s understandable, it’s a little disappointing to hear you dismiss the two best candidates out of hand, while rationalising why Obama is acceptable. There are two superior candidates on that list; a great option on the ‘left’ and the ‘right’. With that in mind, there’s no excuse for anyone to lack the courage of their convictions.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      I didn’t say they were bad candidates. I just said they have no chance of winning this race, which is completely true.

      • Patrick

        It is true, but they’ll never gain the exposure they need and deserve without the votes of like-minded citizens. Besides which – a vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil.

  • http://twitter.com/jcsamuelson Jeff Samuelson

    Being mostly an optimist, I like to think one way of breaking the two party system is to vote outside the box.

    Of course, the cynic in me thinks that once that happens, sleazy opportunists – who are surely represented in every party – will still find their way into office. The difference will be that we won’t be able to complain about the flaws in the two-party system any more.

    But I still think people should vote for the candidate who seems right to them, regardless of party. If nothing else, your integrity will remain intact.

  • Greatplainsape

    Johnson should get an A in both fields under Education and Government participation of National Prayer Breakfast/Day.

  • Timstra

    Thanks for the quality information!

  • Georgina

    While I agree on te religious front – that’s why I liked Obama in 2008 – Romney is ahead on all other points.
    We can better fight for equality and secularism when the people have their basic needs: Food, shelter, education.
    Prosterity is detrimental to religions, who prosper best when ministering to those who have no worldly goods.

  • Greisha

    First, what are evidences that Johnson or Stein can make better president?

    Second, the two party system is direct result of the rule that winner takes all.  If congressional seat were assigned for example proportionally of percentage of vote the party ticket got or there were run off elections top two candidates, it would foster multiparty system. 

    But don’t forget that multiparty system has its own problems – take a look at Italy or Israel, for example.


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