But it is not just Westboro Baptists who dislike atheists. Polls show most Americans are uneasy (to say the least) about unbelievers. In a June 2011 Pew Research poll, 33 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who was gay. For atheist candidates, that number jumped to 61 percent. A Gallup Poll the same month found that only 49 percent of voters would back a “well qualified” presidential candidate who was an atheist. The next lowest vote percentage went to a gay candidate, for whom 67 percent would consider voting.
The good news for atheists is that the trends are moving in the right direction. In a 1958 Gallup poll, only 18 percent of respondents said they’d vote for an atheist. But a side-by-side comparison of polling data finds that tolerance for theological deviance is evolving more slowly than acceptance of what used to be called sexual deviance. In a 1977 Harris poll, 55 percent of respondents thought gays should not be allowed to be teachers, but 80 percent said they could work in factories; now 69 percent of Americans say it’s OK for them to be teachers, and a 2007 survey found that 89 percent believe gays should have equal job opportunities. Atheists are not doing nearly as well in gaining acceptance. A study reported in the December 2011 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that only 33 percent of respondents would hire atheists as day care workers, but 65 percent would hire them as waitresses.