"Coming Out as an Atheist" Why were the respondents so far to the left?

In my last blog post I focused on the massive gender gap in my survey data (70% male). All of the responses to this post were greatly appreciated, and I will continue to follow this and all of my previous conversation threads.

But now I’ll turn to the left bias in the pool of respondents, first presenting the data for review and then making an attempt to make sense of it.

Here is the data for the entire sample:
Which best describes your political views?
1%------------Very conservative
4%------------Somewhat conservative
14%----------Middle of the road
41%-----------Somewhat liberal
42%---------- Very Liberal

So, a whopping 83% of the respondents self identify as liberals. When I break it down by gender it gets even more interesting:

Male-----------Female
0.7%-----------0.3%-------------Very conservative
4%--------------2.1%------------Somewhat conservative
15.1%----------9.1%------------Middle of the road
42%------------36.2%-----------Somewhat liberal
38.3%----------52.5%---------- Very Liberal

Breaking the data down by nation reveals that this "left bias" is cross-cultural, and there appears to be no remarkable differences between US, Canada, the UK, Western Europe and Australia. All of these nations/regions had between 79% (Canada) and 87% (Western Europe) falling into the "Somewhat liberal" or "Very liberal" response categories.

To make sense of these data will take some time, but for now I'll make the educated guess that the underrepresentation from the side of the spectrum is in part explained by the term I have come to use called "social believers." Although I think there are many social believers out there of all stripe, for a few reasons I think that many more conservatives are social believers than liberals. Why? In part because the right has conflated "patriotic and conservative" with "Christian" as in the phrase" Christian conservative....which I pointed out in another post to be a convenient alliteration as well as a redundant statement. Conservatives, thus, have more social and political capital to lose by coming out as an atheist than liberals.

More thoughts on this later in my next post. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on this?

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Comment by tom arcaro on July 17, 2009 at 9:19am
Thanks for you kind comments. This is an ongoing piece of research and I am happy to be able to share it with A/N folks. The overall goal is to join the chorus of those moving to destigmatize
atheism/atheists.
Comment by Michael Teply on July 15, 2009 at 11:00pm
I just came across this site yesterday . There is a wealth of information on it. I am a liberal atheist with a B.A.
I appreciate all the work that's gone into this site.
Comment by tom arcaro on July 2, 2009 at 5:04am
Kristy, You provide some important data and critical points that certainly help explain the "left" leaning. Thanks for your feedback!

Here is the data on level of education from my survey:

1.3% Less than secondary (high) school
5.7% Secondary (high) school graduate
32.7% Some college
37.9% College graduate
22.5% Post-graduate degree

So, as you can see, those that responded were clearly highly educated (60.4% with college degree or beyond!), and as you point out, previous studies indicate and education-political viewpoint correlationship.
Comment by Chrys Stevenson on June 27, 2009 at 6:53am
I would suggest that the political affiliations of respondents should be compared with educational status. I expect that you could argue that as atheists tend to be better educated and better educated people tend to lean towards liberal politics. In “The Social and Political Views of American Professors,” (2007), Neal Gross and Solon Simmons note that their survey of 1,400 college professors found that 44 percent were liberal, 46 percent moderate or centrist, and only 9 percent conservative. This suggests that professors are twice as likely to be liberal than the general population of Americans. Similarly, an analysis by Pew Research in 2006 found that 48% of college graduates were liberal as opposed to only 26% of those who had some college or no college education. Fifty-one percent of those with only a high school or less education were conservatives, against only 25% of college graduates.

In the Pew Research 19% of those self-described as 'secular' were liberals, followed by 12% libertarians (not sure about these figures - the total doesn't add up to 100%). Only 7% of evangelicals were liberals.

Interestingly, 20% of those who attend church weekly were liberals, while of those who seldom or never attend church, 41% were liberals.

There appears to be a clear correlation between higher education (particularly in the humanities and sciences) and liberalism, and a related correlation between higher education and atheism.
Comment by Wonderist on June 26, 2009 at 11:55pm
"In part because the right has conflated "patriotic and conservative" with "Christian""

This doesn't explain the cross-cultural similarity. It's mostly the US where Christian has become tangled up with conservative. If that were the major cause, I would expect the 'masking' of conservative atheists to be much stronger in the US than in other countries.

I go with the hypothesis that atheists simply see through their own self-deceptions better than most, and so conform their views to reality, rather than to preconceived and self-deceptive ideas. And as Stephen Colbert famously said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."
Comment by Фелч Гроган on June 26, 2009 at 9:35pm
Tom, please don't follow the herd and equate "liberalism" with "leftism". The two certainly have large subsets that overlap, but there is such a creature as the "liberal right", and they're not an insignificant demographic. For example, Robert Heinlein, Penn & Teller, Howard Stern, Terry Pratchett are 'liberal right" to name just a few that are familiar to members here. This map simply illustrates it (substitute "liberal" for "libertarian", it's essentially the same as a visualisation) -

Comment by Daniel W on June 26, 2009 at 9:16pm
Interesting stuff.

Could it be that people who have a psychological need for authority and strict rules are more like to gravitate to religion because it has those traits, while people who rebel from authority or insist on coming up with their own rules are less likely to give in to the authority in religion? Maybe that's just another way of saying what you already said.
Again, interesting work. Thanks for sharing it.
Comment by tom arcaro on June 26, 2009 at 11:55am
Thanks for the kind words as well as your thoughts on the topic.

Yes, I will publish eventually. A colleague and I are submitting a paper to the American Sociological Assn annual meeting, but the process is slow: it would not be presented until August 2010. I want to publish a popular press version well before that. What outlet can you suggest?

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