How many Americans are atheists? Many people don't really like admitting it, but Brian Resnick points today to an attempt to get at the truth. In the cleverly titled "How many atheists are there?" a pair of researchers sent people surveys with a bunch of personal questions (Are you vegetarian? Do you work from home? Etc.). But they didn't ask for answers to the questions. All they asked for was the number that were true for you.
The researchers don't report the average number reported back. But let's suppose it was 4.3 out of 9. This is important, because they sent out a second set of surveys that were identical but added one question: "Do you believe in God?" If the average number of questions that were reported true in the second survey stayed at 4.3 out of 10, we can figure that no one believes in God. If it went up to, say, 5.1 out of 10, a little arithmetic suggests that roughly 80 percent of the respondents believe in God and 20 percent don't.
After grinding through all this, the paper concludes that about 26 percent of Americans are atheists. Maybe that's a reliable number, maybe not. This needs to be replicated a few times before we believe it. However, I was pretty gobsmacked by this table:
Granted, the error bars are large, but their point estimate is that no Republicans are atheists. None! If this methodology is accurate, it not only suggests a truly enormous religion gap between Republicans and everyone else, but also that self-reporting isn't worth a damn.
As it happens, the sample the researchers used was probably somewhat self-selected rather than being truly random, and that may have affected the results. There are other potential problems too. Still, it's an interesting first crack at this, and I hope that others follow it up.