Last week, Rowan created a visualization of Pew Research polling data on Americans collected from January-March 2014. When Pew asked respondents how they would feel about their children marrying athiests, members of the American Christian majority displayed a strong tendency to express unhappiness at the prospect.
Because surveys gather data from samples and not the entire population, any one piece of survey research might produce a pattern by chance alone. For this reason, it’s good to look for other research asking similar questions to see if the pattern holds. In more than 50 years of Gallup polling on atheists as presidential candidates, the pattern holds. In the American Mosaic Project’s research on atheists as marriage partners, the pattern also holds. In all of these pieces of research, atheists appear to be the most feared, loathed and rejected social group in the United States.
This week, Pew Research has released the results of a different poll that is also germane to the subject. Conducted in May-June of 2014, this poll asked American respondents to share their attitude regarding various religious groups using a “feeling thermometer”:
“We’d like to get your feelings toward a number of groups on a ‘feeling thermometer.’ A rating of 0 degrees means you feel as cold and negative as possible. A rating of 100 degrees means you feel as warm and positive as possible. You would rate the group at 50 degrees if you don’t feel particularly positive or negative toward the group.”
The following are the average thermometer readings given to religious groups and atheists, those without religious belief:
|Group Being Evaluated||Average Thermometer Reading|
This finding matches the pattern in the other research I’ve cited above: atheists are the group toward which Americans feel most antipathy. The only deviation from other research is the clumping of Muslims at the bottom with atheists; other research suggests that atheists are despised more than Muslims, with Muslims a close second.
Some might suggest that the low temperature reading for atheists reflects the attitude of a narrow sliver of American Christianity, namely the conservative evangelical segment. But Pew finds that negative temperature readings are nearly universal across the Judeo-Christian spectrum, with the relative exception of Jews:
|Group Evaluating Atheists||Average Thermometer Reading of Atheists by Group|
|White Evangelical Protestants||25|
|White Mainline Protestants||41|
We each may come to a different conclusion about what ought to be done on the basis of this trend, but to my eye it’s pretty difficult to dispute the existence of the trend: in the esteem of Americans today, atheists are at the bottom.