February 21, 2007

Minority-Group Presidents

An interesting survey found via Instapundit: Given a choice between Presidential candidates from the following set of minority groups, which do you think fared best, and which fared worse: Catholics,* Mormons, atheists, people over the age of 72,† Latinos, Blacks, women,‡ or thrice-married people.

The result? At least according to this poll, Americans are most willing to accept a Catholic President, and least willing to accept an atheist. From that, it seems safe to conclude that a candidate's religious identity is of greater importance to the poll respondents than the candidate's race, gender, or personal history.

Somehow, the selection of seven ought of the eight polling criteria does not seem arbitrary. But is there an atheist running for President? If so, he (or she) is well-closeted. (I thought it might be Dennis Kucinich, but no, turns out that he identifies as a Catholic.) But, this supports last year's suggestion that atheists are the least-liked minority group in the U.S. these days. We're not bad people, really! We're just not willing to accept faith in God as a proxy for being morally good -- and for that matter, neither should religious people, but I digress.

The media has been focusing a lot on one candidate's religious identity recently. But while that particular identity is an issue for a lot of people, those people are hardly a majority -- and even they apparently consider it better to be in what they think of as a bizarre not-really-Christian cult than to have no religious identity at all. I'm reminded of that scene in Contact in which Jodie Foster is testifying before Congress, trying to become the person who gets to travel to meet the aliens whose message she was the first to discover, after being forced to reluctantly admit that she is an atheist. Congress decides to give that honor to the slimy, publicity-stealing media-whore instead because he sucks up to the public about believing in God and implying that he was willing to proselytize to aliens of awe-inspiring technological superiority to humanity (although we the audience get the idea that his profession of faith was quite insincere to boot).

Hypothesis: If you say you have faith, that's what seems to count to the American public as a whole. It seems to matter little whether your faith is exactly like the audience's. You can be Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Mormon. But you've got to be something, apparently; you can't opt out.

The test of this hypothesis would have been if Muslims had been included in the survey.

* Catholics are actually the plurality religious identity within the United States, but there are collectively more Protestants than Catholics. They're just split up amongst a variety of different sects.

† This "group" is not a minority so much as a demographic, drawn to address a potential problem with the candidacy and theoretical service of a specific Presidential candidate. As it turns out, the polling data reveals that this is a bigger problem for voters than a lot of media coverage would seem to indicate.

‡ Women are actually a slim majority of the American population, but they remain a distinct minority within the ranks of holders of substantial amounts of political power. This post is not intended to muse about the reasons why this is the case or to offer a normative evaluations of that state of affairs. Maybe another day.


Anonymous said...

It's a shame that people have so much fear about others that don't share their belief systems. There was an interesting article in the NY Times a week or so ago about Carl Sagan ("the most famous of the unbelievers"). I'm guessing he might not be so popular in today's day and age.

Also troubling is this article from the Washington Post about an army chaplain that was discharged from the service when he converted to the Wiccan faith -- perhaps even more misunderstood than athiests.

palinurus said...

Can't say I feel too bad about the Wiccan "chaplain," but I do find it ironic that the fact that someone professes a belief seems to be matter more than that they follow the tenets logically required by that belief. In other words, it counts for more, as a positive, that Kucinich calls himself a Catholic than it counts, as a negative, that he rejects a lot of the Catholic Church's teachings.

palinurus said...

I posted before I was ready; wanted to make one more point:

It seems the sincerity of the belief or lack of religious belief should count for more than that one is willing to ascribe to something as a way of punching a ticket.

zzi said...

Catholics usually vote as the general public. So it's pretty hard to pin them down. I'm sure politicians would love to get them on their side.