The British Election Study 2015: Religious affiliation and attitudes

This second post, based on analysis of the British Election Study (BES) 2015, looks at selected attitudes of religious groups in Britain. Two waves of panel data (conducted in, respectively, February-March 2014 and April-June 2014) have so far been made available from the BES 2015 for wider analysis. The datasets and accompanying documentation can be found here. As with the first post, this post analyses data from wave 1 of the BES 2015 panel study. The analysis is based on a core sample size of 20,881 and the data are weighted accordingly. This post looks at party support and social attitudes. The party support questions concern how respondents’ voted in the 2005 and 2010 general elections and their current vote intention. The social attitude questions concern equal opportunities for different groups.

 

Party support

First, we can look at the pattern of voting for religious groups at the two most recent general elections, in 2005 and 2010. Data on which party a respondent voted for – Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat or some other party – are provided in Table 1. The top half of Table 1 shows reported voting behaviour in the 2005 election and the bottom half shows reported voting at the 2010 election. A parsimonious set of religious affiliation categories is used. Befitting, their historical linkages with the party, Anglicans were more likely to support the Conservatives at both recent elections, although the gap over Labour is more pronounced at the 2010 contest. For Catholics, historically seen as a key electoral constituency for the Labour Party, support for Labour was more pronounced at the 2005 contest, while their support for the two largest parties was much closer at the 2010 election. Other Christians, which includes those belonging to the Nonconformist churches and those identifying as Church of Scotland / Presbyterian, show a more balanced picture of Lab-Con party support at both elections, although with voting for Labour more common than supporting the Conservatives.

Those belonging to other religious traditions – another electoral constituency which has traditionally shown a greater propensity to vote for the Labour Party – show higher levels of support for Labour compared to the Conservatives, which was more apparent in 2005. Those with no religion show interesting variation at the two contests. In 2005, they were much more likely to have voted for Labour, but in 2010 the vote shares for Labour and the Conservatives are almost identical. At both elections, those with no religious affiliation register higher levels of support for the Lib Dems compared to all of the religious groups, which may reflect the more youthful demographic profile of the non-religious. The higher level of support for minor parties amongst other Christians partly reflects voting for the Scottish National Party amongst those identifying as Church of Scotland / Presbyterian.

 

Table 1: Voting in the 2005 and 2010 elections by religious affiliation

Anglican (%)

Catholic (%)

Other Christian (%)

Other religion (%)

No religion (%)

2005
Con

42.8

28.7

31.2

29.0

26.2

Lab

36.4

48.1

38.0

47.0

41.1

Lib Dem

16.7

15.7

16.4

17.1

23.5

Other party

4.2

7.5

14.4

7.0

9.2

2010
Con

47.7

34.4

33.0

29.0

29.9

Lab

26.2

39.1

33.7

38.9

29.8

Lib Dem

21.9

19.3

19.2

24.1

32.0

Other party

4.3

7.2

14.1

8.0

8.2

Source: BES 2015 Panel Study – Wave 1.

 

Are the patterns evident above reflected in the current vote intentions of the religious and non-religious? The following question was used in the BES 2015 to gauge current voting preferences: ‘And if there were a UK General Election tomorrow, which party would you vote for?’ Data are reported in Table 2, using the same sets of categories for party choice and religious affiliation. Anglicans are still more likely to report that they would vote for the Conservatives if a general election were to be held, although a fifth report they would vote for another party, which reflects some level of support for UKIP. Catholics show a strong propensity to support Labour again compared to the Conservatives. Those in the other Christian category show a slightly higher level of support for Labour. Those who belong to other religious traditions show strong support for Labour, at a slightly higher level that that registered amongst Catholics. Around half would vote for Labour and a quarter would support the Conservative Party. Amongst those with no religion, support is clearly higher for Labour, with about two-fifths declaring they would vote for them compared to just over a quarter who would support the Conservative Party. Across all groups, support for the Lib Dems is very low compared to the reported voting patterns at the 2005 and 2010 general elections – highest at about a tenth for those with no affiliation.

 

Table 2: Current vote intention by religious affiliation

Anglican (%)

Catholic (%)

Other Christian (%)

Other religion (%)

No religion (%)

Con

39.3

29.5

31.1

25.0

26.7

Lab

32.1

45.3

35.6

49.6

39.7

Lib Dem

7.5

5.1

8.1

7.1

10.5

Other party

21.1

20.2

25.2

18.3

23.2

Source: BES 2015 Panel Study – Wave 1.

 

Table 3 provides another look at current voting patterns based on affiliation, providing data for a more detailed set of religious traditions. Given recent party-political and electoral developments, it also provides separate vote share data for UKIP (whereas, in Tables 1 and 2, they were included as part of the other party category).

Given that some of these religious groups – both Christian and non-Christian – are very small in terms of the numbers belonging to them, the unweighted bases for the weighted data are also presented. Extra care should obviously be taken with the party vote share figures for those religious traditions with relatively few or very few cases in the sample (United Reformed Church, Free Presbyterian, Brethren, Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism).

The more detailed breakdown shows party support amongst some of the other Christian traditions and amongst different non-Christian faiths. Looking first at the Nonconformist churches, we can see that Methodists show somewhat higher support for the Conservatives than for Labour, while Baptists are more likely to favour the Labour Party, as are those who belong to the United Reformed Church. Those who identify as Church of Scotland / Presbyterian show greater support for Labour than for the Conservatives but a significant minority would vote for the SNP (captured in the other party category).

Amongst non-Christian religions, those belonging to Islam show very high support for Labour – at nearly three-quarters, this is highest across all of the groups in Table 3. Jews are more likely to support the Conservatives than Labour – a finding from other recent survey-based research – while adherents of all other faiths – in particular, Sikhism and Buddhism – show markedly higher levels of support for Labour. There is also a considerably higher propensity to vote Labour within the other category. Looking at intention to vote for UKIP, this is more prevalent amongst Anglicans than it is amongst Catholics

 

Table 3: Current vote intention by religious affiliation (full set of categories)

 

Con

Lab

Lib Dem

UKIP

Other

party

Unweighted base

Anglican (%)

39.3

32.1

7.5

18.3

2.9

4,884

Roman Catholic (%)

29.5

45.3

5.1

12.9

7.3

1,535

Presbyterian/Church of Scotland (%)

24.5

34.9

5.3

7.7

27.7

1,032

Methodist (%)

40.5

34.8

10.5

10.0

4.1

423

Baptist (%)

32.3

36.7

9.7

15.9

5.3

255

United Reformed Church (%)

27.2

35.8

12.3

7.5

16.3

73

Free Presbyterian (%)

21.7

47.8

4.3

17.4

8.7

25

Brethren (%)

15.4

53.8

0.0

30.8

0.0

11

Judaism (%)

46.3

29.9

5.4

11.6

6.2

134

Hinduism (%)

30.9

57.7

3.1

6.2

2.1

65

Islam (%)

14.9

73.0

7.3

0.8

3.6

153

Sikhism (%)

15.4

63.5

5.8

5.9

7.8

34

Buddhism (%)

24.7

38.4

6.8

13.5

17.6

73

Other (%)

23.7

42.9

8.4

11.3

13.7

572

None (%)

26.7

39.6

10.5

12.4

10.8

7,357

Source: BES 2015 Panel Study – Wave 1.

Note: Percentages sum across the rows.

 

Social issues

As well as shedding some light on the association between religious belonging and party support, the BES 2015 panel study asked questions on equal opportunities for ethnic minorities, women and gays and lesbians. The latter two issues are particularly relevant for religious groups given the various reforms made in relation to same-sex equality under recent governments – most recently, the legalisation of same-sex marriage – and also given debates over the role and status of women within, for example, the Anglicans Church, centring on the issue of women bishops. The questions asked were worded as follows:

 

Please say whether you think these things have gone too far or have not gone far enough in Britain.

Attempts to give equal opportunities to ethnic minorities.

Attempts to give equal opportunities to women.

Attempts to give equal opportunities to gays and lesbians.

 

It is worth noting that earlier BES studies asked equivalent questions (equal opportunities for women – asked on the BES surveys from 1974 to 1997, except in 1983; equal opportunities for gays and lesbians and ethnic minorities – asked on the BES surveys from 1987-1997). The pattern of responses for contemporary views based on affiliation is shown in Table 4. What is clear is that all groups are more likely to think that equal opportunities have not gone too far (or not nearly too far) for women compared to the other groups, with around a third or higher adopting this view across all categories of affiliation. In relation to equal opportunities for ethnic minorities, the view that they have not gone far enough is less prevalent across all groups; it is highest for those belonging to other religions, followed by those with no religion. Over two-fifths of Catholics and other Christians, and nearly half of Anglicans, think that equal opportunities have gone too far for ethnic minorities in Britain.

In relation to gays and lesbians, around three-tenths of those with no affiliation think that equal opportunities have not gone far enough (or nearly far enough), with such views less common amongst those with a religious identity. Views that equal opportunities for gays and lesbians have gone too far – perhaps with the recent debate and legalisation of same-sex marriage salient in the minds of some respondents – are higher amongst all religious adherents: for example, such views are twice as likely amongst other Christians as they are amongst those with no religion.

 

Table 4: Attitudes towards equal opportunities by religious affiliation

Anglican (%)

Catholic (%)

Other Christian (%)

Other religion (%)

No religion (%)

Ethnic minorities
Not gone nearly far enough or not gone far enough

10.3

15.1

13.9

26.4

19.5

About right

35.8

36.1

36.9

33.1

37.3

Gone too far or gone much too far

47.4

41.8

43.1

28.4

35.1

Don’t know

6.4

6.9

6.2

12.1

8.2

Women
Not gone nearly far enough or not gone far enough

34.8

36.6

36.0

34.2

37.9

About right

49.2

44.7

43.7

40.1

45.1

Gone too far or gone much too far

12.2

14.4

16.3

15.5

11.2

Don’t know

3.7

4.3

4.0

10.2

5.7

Gays and lesbians
Not gone nearly far enough or not gone far enough

16.0

20.3

14.1

19.6

30.2

About right

42.4

40.5

39.3

32.9

43.0

Gone too far or gone much too far

35.3

32.2

39.9

32.3

19.6

Don’t know

6.2

7.0

6.6

15.2

7.2

Source: BES 2015 Panel Study – Wave 1.

 

Summary

The BES 2015 data, as with previous studies in this series, allow for analysis of the political and social opinions of religious groups across different issues. The past (2005 and 2010 elections) and present (current voting intention) patterns of electoral support provide some recent evidence, at first sight, for the traditional associations between religious groups and particular parties. That is, Anglicans still tend to favour the Conservatives over Labour; Catholics show higher levels of support for Labour; and non-Christian religious minorities also are much more likely to favour Labour, with support highest amongst Muslims. Reflecting the clear decline in the party’s public standing since entering into coalition government, levels of support for the Lib Dems have fallen to very low levels across all groups compared their (higher) reported vote share at recent general elections.

In relation to social attitudes, there is greater variation in the views of the religious and non-religious in relation to equal opportunities for ethnic minorities and gays and lesbians, but considerably more agreement in relation to equal opportunities for women, an issue which for the Church of England has been particularly divisive, most recently in relation to the debate over women bishops.

 

Reference

Fieldhouse, E., J. Green., G. Evans., H. Schmitt, and C. van der Eijk (2014) British Election Study Internet Panel Wave 1.


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