We're number two: Pew poll shows atheists are America's second-least popular religious group

Good news for Obama, I guess. The group he actually secretly belongs to is slightly more popular than the group his harshest critics accuse him of secretly belonging to.

Jews, Catholics and evangelical Christians are viewed warmly by the American public. When asked to rate each group on a “feeling thermometer” ranging from 0 to 100 – where 0 reflects the coldest, most negative possible rating and 100 the warmest, most positive rating – all three groups receive an average rating of 60 or higher (63 for Jews, 62 for Catholics and 61 for evangelical Christians). And 44% of the public rates all three groups in the warmest part of the scale (67 or higher).

Buddhists, Hindus and Mormons receive neutral ratings on average, ranging from 48 for Mormons to 53 for Buddhists. The public views atheists and Muslims more coldly; atheists receive an average rating of 41, and Muslims an average rating of 40. Fully 41% of the public rates Muslims in the coldest part of the thermometer (33 or below), and 40% rate atheists in the coldest part.

Not only are Jews the most liked religious group, but per the table below, they’re the only group to draw a “warm” rating from every other major religious group. That’s quite a contrast to recent news from Europe, needless to say. The Atlantic wonders whether it’s a function of (a) Jewish participation in popular culture, (b) the fact that many members of other religious minorities are first- or second-generation whereas the Jewish population is well established in America, or (c) religion-infused politics, with America’s large evangelical population strongly pro-Jewish because of their solidarity with Israel and veneration of Biblical teachings about the “chosen people.”

If the answer is (c), it seems the love is not requited, alas:


White evangelicals view Jews “warmly” with a rating of 69; Jews, meanwhile, give evangelicals a rating of … 34, which is a point lower than their rating of Muslims. Could be that evangelicals, when asked about Jews, instinctively think of Israel and foreign policy whereas Jews, most of whom lean Democratic, think mainly of domestic policy when asked about evangelical Christians. Go figure that a socially liberal, solidly Democratic group would look skeptically at the GOP’s conservative base. When you ask Jews about a Christian group that’s not closely identified with either party, i.e. Catholics, the rating shoots up to 58, the second highest number (behind Buddhists) that Jews gave to any other group. That’s the proof, I think, that the numbers here are to some extent a proxy for politics rather than a gauge of religion.

The same thing’s apparent in the atheist ratings. Atheists give evangelical Christians a rating of just 28, more than 10 points lower than their rating for any other group. That’s not because they see them as significantly more “radical” than, say, Muslims, I suspect; it’s because evangelicals, as an engine of the GOP, have real political muscle and therefore seem threatening to socially liberal nonbelievers. (Evangelicals, meanwhile, gave atheists a rating of 25, the lowest number on the board. Maybe that’s a reaction to perceived political power too, although I tend to think it’s more an expression of pure disdain for the godless.) In fact, look again at the ratings given by atheists and you’ll see a trend — while the two major Christian denominations, which includes most of the public, fail to break 50, several small religious minorities do (Jews, Buddhists, Hindus). It’s not that atheists view all religious believers dimly, in other words, so much as they view the dominant religion as a threat politically.

Exit question: We can’t do better than a 48 for Mormons, America? I know their beliefs are considered “out there” by other religious groups, but they’re very solid citizens and the polygamy thing is ancient history. C’mon.