There's always been an assumption in American politics that a candidate will lose votes if they admit to being an atheist, or even simply by not being openly religious. Now there's some concrete proof that this truism simply isn't true.
A recent poll by the Associated Press and the non-partisan and objective research organization at the University of Chicago (NORC) shows that few voters feel strongly that religious belief is an important consideration when evaluating candidates. According to the poll, "Just 25 percent of Americans say it's very or extremely important that a candidate has strong religious beliefs.... Only 19 percent consider it very or extremely important that a candidate shares their own beliefs, and nearly half say that's not very important or not important at all." Most people polled don't think religion should have a large impact on public policy.
Of course, these beliefs vary greatly across religious affiliations. Among white born-again Christians and non-white Protestants, close to half of the respondents (51 percent and 47 percent, respectively) view it as "extremely/very important" that a candidate profess "strong religious beliefs." (And yet the first group voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump.) For Catholics, however, the number who say strong religious belief on the part of a candidate is extremely/ very important plummets to 25 percent and drops even further to 18 percent for white Protestants. Unsurprisingly, for those with no affiliation--that growing group of "nones" you hear so much about--only 6 percent want their candidates to have strong religious beliefs.
Interestingly, a significant portion of voters have more concerns that candidates hold the same view as the voter with regard to religion's role in the political realm. Thirty-eight percent of white Protestants and 28 percent with no affiliation report that it's extremely or very important that candidates share their view of religion in politics. Since those groups register the lowest percentages on the question of whether politicians should have strong religious beliefs, it's fair to conclude they feel religion should have little role in politics and that they would prefer to support candidates with a similar view.
The poll also examines which specific issues respondents believe religion should influence. Most Americans are familiar with the role religious beliefs play in political issues like abortion rights or discrimination against LGBTQ people. The...