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Socialism and Atheism Still U.S. Political Liabilities

Socialism and Atheism Still U.S. Political Liabilities

Story Highlights

  • Over 90% would vote for a candidate who is black, Catholic, Hispanic, a woman or Jewish
  • Much smaller majorities open to atheist, Muslim presidential candidates
  • Majority in U.S. would not support a socialist for president

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- More than nine in 10 Americans say they would vote for a presidential candidate nominated by their party who happened to be black, Catholic, Hispanic, Jewish or a woman. Such willingness drops to eight in 10 for candidates who are evangelical Christians or are gays or lesbians. Between six and seven in 10 would vote for someone who is under 40 years of age, over 70, a Muslim or an atheist.

Just one group tested -- socialists -- receives majority opposition. Less than half of Americans, 45%, say they would vote for a socialist for president, while 53% say they would not.

Willingness to Vote for a Party's "Well-Qualified" Candidate for President, Based on Candidate Characteristics
% Yes, would vote for that person; Selected trend
1958 Sep 10-15 1983 Apr 29-May 2 2007 Feb 9-11 2015 Jun 2-7 2020 Jan 16-29
% % % % %
Black 38 77 94 92 96
Catholic 67 92 95 93 95
Hispanic -- -- 87 91 94
Jewish 63 88 92 91 93
Woman 54 80 88 92 93
Evangelical Christian -- -- -- 73 80
Gay/Lesbian -- 29 55 74 78
Under 40 -- -- -- - 70
Over 70 -- -- 57^ -- 69
Muslim -- -- -- 60 66
Atheist 18 42 45 58 60
Socialist -- -- -- 47 45
^ Question wording: 72 years of age

These findings are based on a Gallup question asking, "Between now and the 2020 political conventions, there will be discussion about the qualifications of presidential candidates -- their education, age, religion, race and so on. If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be [characteristic], would you vote for that person?"

Gallup first tested Americans' willingness to vote for candidates who don't fit the traditional Protestant white male mold in 1937, asking that year whether they would support a well-qualified Catholic, Jew or woman for president. Support for a woman as president was only 33% at that time but has since grown, as has support for other diverse candidates added to the list over the decades.

Since 1958, the sharpest increase in voting tolerance has been for blacks, followed by atheists, women, Jewish candidates and Catholics. More recently, the biggest shift has been for gay or lesbian candidates.

The latest results are based on a Gallup poll conducted Jan. 16-29, 2020. When Gallup last measured these attitudes, in 2019, the results were within a few percentage points of those found today.

Acceptance of Candidate Characteristics Differs by Party

Democrats express at least somewhat more willingness than Republicans to support most of the candidate types tested, with the widest gaps seen for Muslims, atheists and socialists. While at least two in three Democrats say they would vote for presidential candidates with these profiles, support among Republicans drops to just over 40% for Muslims and atheists, and to only 17% for socialists.

Republicans are more accepting than Democrats of evangelical Christians and candidates over 70. While President Donald Trump falls into the latter category, so do four of the leading Democratic candidates: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bloomberg.

Republicans and Democrats are about equally likely to support Catholic and Jewish candidates.

Willingness to Vote for Candidates With Diverse Characteristics, by Party ID
% Yes, would vote for that person
Republican Independent Democrat
% % %
Black 91 97 99
Catholic 95 94 97
Hispanic 90 94 99
A woman 86 95 99
Jewish 92 92 95
An evangelical Christian 88 77 77
Gay or lesbian 62 82 89
Under the age of 40 63 72 75
Over the age of 70 73 68 66
Muslim 42 71 88
An atheist 41 68 69
A socialist 17 45 76
Gallup, Jan. 16-29, 2020

The views of political independents fall midway between those of Republicans and Democrats for several candidate types -- including socialists, with less than half of independents saying they would vote for such a person.

Independents are closer to Democrats than Republicans in their greater reluctance to support an evangelical Christian candidate, and in their greater willingness to support a candidate who is a woman, gay or lesbian, someone under age 40, a Muslim or an atheist.

Bottom Line

As the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries get underway, it may be instructive to know that little prejudice stands in the way of Democratic as well as national support for candidates who happen to be Catholic, Hispanic, Jewish or female. Being especially young or advanced in age could pose minor appeal problems.

Being gay or lesbian, Muslim, an atheist or a socialist wouldn't cause much stir among Democrats, but these candidates could have difficulty attracting support from Republicans and, to a lesser extent, from political independents.

Learn more about public opinion metrics that matter for the 2020 presidential election at Gallup's 2020 Presidential Election Center.

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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