In response to my previous post, where I mention the upcoming announcement of a nontheist in Congress, Naomi from God is for Suckers! mentioned that she expected there could be more that are just staying in the closet. Naomi has a great post on GifS that discusses the religious anomalies in Congress. I started off writing a responding comment, but I thought it was interesting enough for a full post.
Congress is no stranger to statistical anomalies. After all, there are only 16 female senators out of 100 people. But Naomi's post also shows interesting differences in religious preference in Congress vs. the real world. For instance, the Jewish representation in Congress is more than six times larger than what is seen in the nationwide statistics. The Episcopalian representation is more than four times normal, and Presbyterian representation is three times normal. While the 'unaffiliated' statistic is nearly 13 times smaller than the national percentage.
Well, all those boosted groups had to get their numbers from somewhere.
But why so few from the 'unaffiliated' group? I think it's group psychology. If someone running for Congress says they are Catholic, all the Catholics at the polls will at least be able to say, "That candidate is one of us!" This gives the candidate extra compassion for their faults, and greater empathy for their drives. No matter what group the candidate falls into, there is probably going to some kind of boost among their religious brethren.
But what if a candidate is listed as 'unaffiliated'? That, almost by definition, means they are in no group at all. True, they might find some boost among those that also consider themselves unaffiliated, but that's a group that is lacking an official title. It's the same difference as between a Club and a group of friends. Remember your childhood -- what was the first thing that happened after a group of friends starts a club? Come up with a name, of course! Without looking into this any further, it would almost seem more beneficial for a candidate to use a label like Atheist, Agnostic, Pantheist, or Humanist -- as long as it's not the nebulous 'unaffiliated.'
But there are also supergroups. Naomi's list can also be read as 'affiliated' vs 'unaffiliated' -- with an imbalance of 98.9% against! Different denominations can be divisive amongst themselves, but they all have a god, and that's a pretty thick line to draw in the sand. Group psychology will also create outcasts. 'Unaffiliated' can technically mean "religious, but without preference of a particular denomination." 'Atheist' just flat out puts you in the doghouse.
So, back to the question -- are there more nontheists in Congress? I've seen various statistics but they seem to center around 1%-3% of the US population actively calls themselves atheist. So for a group of 535 Americans, one could expect for somewhere between 5 and 16 of them to be atheist. Not just nontheist, but Atheist with a capital 'A.'
I'm about as sure that there aren't 16 atheists in Congress as I am that there is not a god.
Oh, part of it is just me being cynical and feeling isolated and unrepresented. But I also think that the same group psychology that would result in unity or discrimination in a vote, would also reveal itself in the grooming of a candidate that happens before the vote. If a candidate could somehow go from an unknown to a honest contender without any public support, things might be different. But there are a lot of people that go into a candidacy, and someone needs a lot of group support before running for office.