Americans Today Much More Accepting of a Woman, Black, Catholic, or Jew As President

by Frank Newport

Still Reluctant to Vote for Atheists or Homosexuals

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

It has become less and less acceptable in recent years-both legally and normatively-for Americans to overtly take into account such characteristics as race, gender, religious preference, or sexual orientation in making decisions on hiring or firing employees. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, a new Gallup poll demonstrates that Americans are less willing now than in the past to express an unwillingness to vote for candidates for president on the basis of these same types of characteristics. Still, the poll shows that members of certain groups, including atheists, homosexuals, and Mormons, could find that these characteristics, even today, could be taken into account as negative factors by a sizeable portion of the U.S. population.

Gallup began asking Americans about their willingness to vote for individuals with various demographic and religious characteristics over sixty years ago. At that time, in 1937, there was considerable reluctance on the part of the American population to vote for either a Jew, a woman, or a Catholic:

  • 46% said they would vote for a Jew for president

  • 60% said they would vote for a Catholic for president

  • 33% said they would vote for a woman for president

Of these groups, only one has had a member actually become president in the intervening years: John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, who was elected in 1960. There have been no female or Jewish presidents.

Still, the theoretical acceptance of members of all three categories has risen steadily over time. The acceptance of a Catholic for president took its biggest leap forward with the election of JFK, jumping from 71% in 1960 to 82% in 1961. By 1967, the acceptance of a Catholic had risen to 90%, and it is now at 94% in Gallup's most recent poll, taken in February. The acceptance of a Jewish candidate for president also rose into the 80% range in 1965, and is now at 92% (leaving 6% who say they would not vote for a Jew for president).

Of particular relevance this year, with the potential candidacy of Elizabeth Dole, is the acceptance of a woman for president, which rose from 33% in 1937 to 82% in 1987, and is at 92% this year. (Seven percent of the population would not vote for a woman for president.)

Gallup has tested five other groups in this presidential vote scenario over the years:

  • Being an atheist, unlike most of these other characteristics, is still not widely acceptable to the American public. The latest poll shows only 49% of Americans would vote for an atheist for president, making this the most discriminated-against characteristic of the eight tested in the research.

  • The idea of voting for a homosexual for president remains unacceptable to 37% of the population, placing it second to atheist on the unacceptable list, out of the eight groups tested. Fifty-nine percent of the population would vote for a homosexual, which is up significantly from 26% in 1978, when the question was first asked.

  • The willingness to vote for a black for president was at 37% in 1958, when Gallup first included the category in its survey tests. That number rose through the 1960s and into the 1970s, although, as recently as 1987, only 79% of Americans said they would vote for a black person for president. By 1997 that number had risen to 93%, and it is now at 95%.

  • Two other religious groups have been tested by Gallup. Americans are very accepting of a Baptist in the White House (of which there have been two--Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton), but significantly less accepting of a Mormon. A "Baptist" was first included in the lists in 1958, with 92% acceptance, which has risen slightly, to 94% who say they would accept a Baptist today. The idea of a Mormon as president, however, creates reactions from Americans that are more negative. Seventy-nine percent say that they would vote for a Mormon for president, while 17% say they would not. Interestingly, this number has not changed significantly over time; 75% of those polled said they would vote for a Mormon 32 years ago, in 1967, only 4% points lower than the current figure.

For results based on the sample of national adults (N=1,014) the margin of error is ±3 percentage points.

Between now and the 2000 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 [INSERT A-H], would you vote for that person?

  Yes No No Opinion
A. Jewish
99 Feb 19-21 92% 6% 2%
87 Jul 10-13 89 6 5
83 Apr 29-May 2 88 7 5
78 Jul 21-24 82 12 6
69 Mar 12-17 86 8 6
67 Apr 19-24 82 13 5
65 Jul 16-21 80 15 5
63 Aug 15-20 77 17 6
61 Aug 24-29 68 23 9
59 Dec 10-15 72 22 6
58 Sep 10-15 63 29 7
58 Jul 30-Aug 4 62 28 10
37 Feb 10-15 46 47 8
  Yes No No Opinion
B. An atheist
99 Feb 19-21 49% 48% 3%
87 Aug 10-13 44 48 8
83 Apr 29-May 2 42 51 7
78 Jul 21-24 40 53 7
59 Dec 10-15 22 74 5
58 Sep 10-15 18 77 5
58 Jul 30-Aug 4 18 75 7
  Yes No No Opinion
C. Black
99 Feb 19-21 95% 4% 1%
97 Jan 4-Feb 28 93 4 3
87 Jul 10-13 79 13 8
84 Jul 27-30 77 16 7
83 Apr 29-May 2 77 16 7
78 Jul 21-24 77 18 6
71 Oct 8-11 69 23 7
69 Mar 12-17 66 24 10
67 Apr 19-24 53 41 6
65 Jul 16-21 59 34 7
63 Aug 15-20 48 45 7
61 Aug 24-29 50 41 9
59 Dec 10-15 49 46 5
58 Sep 10-15 38 54 8
58 Jul 30-Aug 4 37 53 10
  Yes No No Opinion
D. Catholic
99 Feb 19-21 94% 4% 2%
83 Apr 29-May 2 92 5 3
78 Jul 21-24 91 4 5
69 Mar 12-17 87 7 5
67 Apr 19-24 90 8 2
65 Jul 16-21 87 10 3
63 Aug 15-20 84 13 3
61 Aug 24-29 82 13 5
60 May 26-31 71 21 8
59 Dec 10-15 70 25 5
59 Apr 2-7 70 21 9
58 Sep 10-15 67 27 6
58 Jul 30-Aug 4 69 24 7
58 Jul 10-15 72 24 4
58 May 7-12 72 21 7
58 Apr 16-21 70 22 8
56 May 31-Jun 5 72 22 5
55 Jan 20-25 69 23 8
40 Mar 27-Apr 2 61 33 7
37 Feb 3-8 60 30 10
  Yes No No Opinion
E. A homosexual
99 Feb 19-21 59% 37% 4%
83 Apr 29-May 2 29 64 7
78 Jul 21-24 26 66 8
  Yes No No Opinion
F. A woman
99 Feb 19-21 92% 7% 1%
87 Jul 10-13 82 12 6
84 Jul 27-30 78 17 5
83 Apr 29-May 2 80 16 4
78 Jul 21-24 76 19 5
75 Aug 15-18 73 23 4
71 Jul 15-18 66 29 5
69 Mar 12-17 53 40 7
67 Apr 19-24 57 39 4
63 Aug 15-20 55 41 4
59 Dec 10-15 57 39 4
58 Sep 10-15 54 41 5
55 Feb 10-15 52 44 4
49 Sep 25-30 48 48 4
45 Nov 23-28 33 55 12
37 Jan 27-Feb 1 33 64 3
  Yes No No Opinion
G. Baptist
99 Feb 19-21 94% 4% 2%
67 Apr 19-24 95 3 2
59 Dec 10-15 94 3 2
58 Sep 10-15 93 4 4
58 Jul 30-Aug 4 92 2 5
  Yes No No Opinion
H. Mormon
99 Feb 19-21 79% 17% 4%
67 Apr 19-24 75 17 8
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