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Atheists & Agnostics in America Tend to be Politically Liberal

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Atheists and agnostics are widely perceived to be liberal, but that's more than just perception: there is good statistical evidence showing strong liberal tendencies among atheists and agnostics. Liberal beliefs show up most strongly in those areas where religiously conservative Christians are most likely to take the opposition position. Coincidence? Unlikely.

As part of a larger poll on religious belief, Harris Interactive asked people the following question: "Please indicate whether you support or oppose the policy." These are the percentages of atheists and agnostics who agreed with the following answers:

  • Abortion rights: 90%
  • Use of birth control/contraception: 99%
  • Abstinence from sex before marriage: 31%
  • Condom use to prevent HIV and other STDs: 99%
  • Funding of international HIV prevention and treatment programs: 95%
  • Funding of international birth control programs 87%
  • Universal health insurance: 89%
  • Sex education in high school: 94%
  • Embryonic stem cell research: 96%
  • Withdrawal of life support systems/food for those in vegetative state: 86%
  • Medicare (health insurance for the elderly and disabled): 97%
  • Medicaid (health insurance for people with low incomes): 91%
  • Let's compare the numbers for atheists and agnostics to those for the general population, as determined in the same poll:

  • Abortion rights: 63%
  • Use of birth control/contraception: 93%
  • Abstinence from sex before marriage: 63%
  • Condom use to prevent HIV and other STDs: 92%
  • Funding of international HIV prevention and treatment programs: 87%
  • Funding of international birth control programs 70%
  • Universal health insurance: 75%
  • Sex education in high school: 87%
  • Embryonic stem cell research: 70%
  • Withdrawal of life support systems/food for those in vegetative state: 68%
  • Medicare (health insurance for the elderly and disabled): 96%
  • Medicaid (health insurance for people with low incomes): 91%
  • The above numbers come from a poll of 2,242 U.S. adults conducted online by Harris Interactive between September 6 and 12, 2005 and have a margin of error of +/-2%.

    Although support for most of these things is still fairly high, in almost every case it's lower in the general population than among atheist and agnostics. The one notable exception is with abstinence from sex before marriage — that only gets 31% support from atheists and agnostics but 63% support in the general population. It's also the most conservative position on there, which means it just reinforces the greater liberal tendencies among atheists and agnostics.

     

    Political Beliefs Among Atheists & Agnostics

    Atheists can be as political as theists — but also like theists, atheists' political beliefs and ideas are diverse. It's sadly common for anti-atheists to assume atheists necessarily hold particular positions, for example that they are all liberal or all communists. The truth, however, is that you can find atheists in all political philosophies — as the absence of belief in gods, atheism doesn't entail or exclude any political philosophies except those that require theism.

    At the same time, thought, it's true that you'll probably find more liberal than non-liberal atheists. Atheism represents a challenge to or dissent from traditional beliefs and traditional religion. Liberalism, through most of Western history, has also challenged traditions and traditional ways of doing things. Liberalism has furthermore generally done more to promote the rights of various minority groups — something which atheists obviously benefit from, given how much discrimination they tend to encounter.

     

    Atheism, Agnosticism, and Conservatism

    Or do you disagree? Are there reasons why more atheists should be more conservative? It's certainly possible that in another society and in another set of circumstances, atheism could be more strongly associated with political, cultural, and even religious conservatism. But not in America at this time. Should this change? Will it change?

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