Exploding the myths surrounding the 'religious vote'

By Jonathan Bartley
February 21, 2010

A very interesting set of poll results are out this morning. The poll was commissioned by our friends at Theos and carried out by ComRes.

The results may not have been the kind of thing the Bible Society's thinktank were hoping for. They haven't themselves yet highlighted some of the most interesting results. Indeed, the results have been released under the rather vague message: “Voters with a religious faith could determine the outcome of the general election”. They could indeed hypothetically speaking. (As could the votes of women, the disabled, ethnic minorities and a whole range of other groups). But that's not what the findings suggest.

An analysis of the results makes some fascinating reading, and actually challenges the idea that religious people (when considered as a whole) vote that much differently to others. They certainly appear to explode a number of myths concerning the political views of religious people. However, the results are also broken down by specific religion, religious commitment etc... There is of course a limit to how meaningful the poll results are when you drill down as there may be quite a bit of margin for error. However at first glance here are the 'big' headlines without drilling down too far: [NB Conclusions No.1 and No.2 are based on the assumption that ComRes have not weighted the sample deliberately to reflect voting patterns in the wider population. There is no indication that they have in the polling results, but rather that the sample is based primarily on religion.]

1.There is no evidence that religious people are more likely to vote than others, despite claims to the contrary. Thirty-four per cent said they didn't vote at the last general election in 2005. A further six per cent refused to answer the question and three per cent couldn't remember. This would leave a total of betwen 57-66 per cent who voted. The turnout in 2005 was in the middle of this range at just under 62 per cent. Indeed, other ComRes surveys of the wider population mirror these percentages exactly.

2. In 2005 religious people voted for the main parties in the same way as the wider population The ComRes poll of the whole population conducted on 10th and 11th Feb 2010 asked: "Thinking back to the last general election in 2005, which party if any did you vote for?" The percentages were: Conservative 19 per cent, Labour 22 per cent, Lib Dem 12 per cent. These are identicial to the new results from the religious sample.

3. Religious people broadly reflect wider polls with regard to voting intent. When asked: “If there were a general election tomorrow, would you vote Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat or some other party?” the results were Conservative 30 per cent, Labour 23 per cent, Lib Dem 16 per cent. The poll was conducted on 17th -18th Feb by ComRes. In a similar poll around the same time by the same pollsters but taking a sample of the whole population, voting intentions were Conservative 32 per cent, Labour 23 per cent, Lib Dem 17 per cent.

4. Religious people may be more likely to vote BNP This is of course worrying, but something we have been warning about at Ekklesia for a number of years. You have to be careful, as when you drill down to such small numbers, the results can become unreliable. However two per cent of religious people in the new poll indicated they would vote BNP. This is significantly more than the wider population in the similar ComRes poll. The majority of those saying that they would vote BNP were also Christians. Indeed, no other religion was represented amongst those saying they would vote BNP. (The others said they had a faith, but did not belong to a particular religion).

5. The big issues that religious people care about are not the narrow ‘family’ ones. When asked “What would you say the most important issue facing Britain today is?” the response was: The economy/ financial issues/ recession and debt (37 per cent), unemployment (17 per cent) migration (11 per cent) NHS (six per cent), crime (five per cent), war (four per cent), education (four per cent) and the environment (three per cent). Things like ‘family values’ come way down the list towards the end at one per cent.

6. Most religious people don’t feel religious freedoms have been restricted in the last ten years Despite the constant stream of scare-stories in the Telegraph and tabloids, and dramatisation by some bishops and religious campaign groups, the majority (59 per cent) of religious people disagree with the statement that "Religious freedoms have been restricted in Britain over the past 10 years". Less than one third agree with the statement.

7. Labour is considered the party most 'friendly' toward religious faith When asked “Which of the main political parties do you think has been most friendly towards general faith over recent years?” Labour came out top with 31 per cent, the Conservatives on 15 per cent and Lib Dems at 10 per cent). When asked about the Muslim faith Labour predictably streaks ahead at 36 per cent, with Conservatives at 10 per cent Lib Dems seven per cent. But even over the Christian faith, the two big parties are neck and neck. Conservatives just edge Labour by 21 per cent to 20 per cent with the Lib Dems on nine per cent. These statistics seem particularly bad for the Conservatives, when you consider that it is usually the Government of the day that gets it in the neck over these issues. Also, even when the views of Christians are considered on their own, the numbers stay pretty much the same.

But you will note that the percetages are all quite small, with almost a half of people saying they don't know. It is helpful therefore, that questions have also been asked about which parties have been least friendly to the Christian faith.

8. The Lib Dems come out best when religious people are asked who has been LEAST friendly toward faith in recent years? When asked which of the main political parties has been LEAST friendly towards faith over recent years, the Tories and Labour both score the same result at around 18 per cent. Only seven per cent feel that the Lib Dems have been the least friendly to faith.

The Conservatives are seen as the least friendly toward the Muslim faith by quite a significant amount (22 per cent against 12 per cent for Labour and eight per cent for the Lib Dems). When it comes to Christianity, Labour are seen as the most unfriendly (20 per cent) compared to the Conservatives on 16 per cent.

9. Religious beliefs are more likely to be 'important' and have a 'significant impact on your life' if your intention is to vote Lib Dem. Twenty-two per cent of the overall sample said their religious beliefs were "important" and "had a significant impact on your life". However, amongst those intending to vote Conservative this drops to 21 per cent. It increases for those intending to vote Labour, to 25 per cent. For the Lib Dems it goes up to 28 per cent.

You can read the poll results here in full

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