Je suis Charlie and Other News


Last week’s news was dominated by a series of Islamist outrages in France, in which seventeen innocent people died, three police officers, four shoppers at a kosher supermarket, and ten journalists working for the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which in 2011 and 2012 had controversially published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. The attack on Charlie Hebdo prompted an international campaign in defence of freedom of speech under the banner ‘Je suis Charlie’.  

Unsurprisingly, these Paris shootings were the most noticed news story of last week, according to an online poll of 2,047 Britons aged 18 and over by Populus on 7-8 January 2015. The then still unfolding events in France topped the list with 42%, far ahead of the AirAsia plane crash (9%) and the crisis in NHS hospitals (6%), which were in second and third places respectively. In another online poll, by YouGov on 8-9 January 2015 (explored in the next two items, below), only 4% of the 1,684 respondents were unaware of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, with 72% closely following the story. The implications of this new spike in radical Islamism will doubtless be the subject of further surveys in the days and weeks ahead. 

Perceptions of Islam

The toll which Islamist terrorism takes on public perceptions of Islam was exemplified in an internally commissioned module of the YouGov poll taken in the immediate aftermath of the murders at Charlie Hebdo’s offices, on 8 and 9 January 2015. Three-fifths (61%) of the sample said that they entertained a wholly or mainly negative view of Islam, the range by demographic sub-groups being from 48% (Liberal Democrat voters) to 77% (in the case of UKIP supporters). The national figure was double the proportion holding a wholly or mainly negative view of Christianity (31%). Merely 2% regarded Islam completely positively (presumably mostly if not entirely Muslims), with 23% voicing criticisms alongside a generally positive view, and 15% unable to make their minds up. Moreover, the majority (57%) said they would feel comfortable expressing criticisms of Islam to people they knew, against 25% who would feel uncomfortable, worried, or scared about doing so (two and a half times the number saying the same about criticizing Christianity). A plurality (34%) of the whole sample and a majority (51%) of UKIP voters thought the media were more willing to criticize Christianity than Islam, with 15% saying the opposite. Data tables can be accessed via a link on a blog about the survey, posted on 9 January at:

Freedom of speech

A second module in the same YouGov poll, undertaken for the Sunday Times, demonstrated majority support for the media’s right to publish content which could upset some religious believers, with a minority expressing reservations. On the original publication of the cartoons of the Prophet in Charlie Hebdo, 69% deemed it acceptable and 14% unacceptable, while 63% defended other newspapers which had chosen to reprint the cartoons. More generally, 71% agreed that the media have an obligation to show controversial items which are newsworthy even if they might offend the religious views of some people, with 11% prioritizing the avoidance of causing offence and 18% undecided. Three-fifths or more also endorsed publication in newspapers or magazines of certain specific controversial religious content, as summarized below. Data tables are at: 

% across



Articles or drawings criticizing and questioning the beliefs and practices of any religion



Drawings, pictures, or cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed



Articles or drawings mocking and ridiculing the beliefs and practices of any religion



Articles or drawings deliberately mocking and ridiculing religious figures like Jesus or the Prophet Mohammed



Trust in religious professionals (1)

The reputation of clergy/priests for telling the truth has improved slightly during the past couple of years, according to the results of the latest Ipsos MORI veracity index, which was published on 5 January 2015 (and for which 1,116 Britons aged 15 and over were interviewed by telephone between 5 and 19 December 2014). Clergy/priests now rank fifth among eighteen groups of professionals in terms of the public’s trust in them to tell the truth, securing a confidence vote of 71% against 24% who mistrust their veracity (albeit rising to 30% with the under-35s). However, this only restores the standing of clergy/priests to 2009 levels, and they are still 14 points below the trust figure for 1983, the first year of the index. Doctors remain the group most trusted to tell the truth (by 90% of the public) and politicians generally the least (by 16%). Full computer tables for the 2014 survey will be found at:

Trend data back to 1983 are at:

Trust in religious professionals (2)

Clergy may still be trusted to tell the truth, but religious leaders are not trusted across the board, according to the newly-released British results of the WIN/Gallup International End of Year 2014 poll, the fieldwork for which was undertaken by ORB International between 19 and 28 November 2014 among an online sample of 1,000 adults aged 18 and over (the survey was also carried out in 64 other countries). Indeed, 53% of Britons claimed not to trust religious leaders, who ranked just seventh out of ten occupations in terms of the degree of trust which they commanded, 23%, only slightly ahead of the traditional trinity of professional ‘villains’ – bankers, journalists, and politicians. The full scores are as follows: 

% across



Don’t know

Healthcare workers




















Business people




Religious leaders
















The poll also included a couple of other questions measuring the saliency of religion in respondents’ lives. In the first, asked which of five identities was most important to them, only 7% chose religion, against 35% nationality and 25% locality. In answer to the second question, and irrespective of attendance at religious services, 30% described themselves as a religious person, peaking at 45% of over-65s, with 53% declaring they were not religious and an additional 13% they were convinced atheists. These figures demonstrate a marked secularizing shift since the question was first asked by Gallup in Britain, in March 1981, when 58% identified as a religious person, 36% as not religious, and 4% as a convinced atheist. The British WIN/Gallup International 2014 data tables are at:

Opinium on religion

Self-assessed religiosity was also one of the questions posed in a survey released by Opinium Research on 5 January 2015, for which 2,003 UK adults were interviewed online between 19 and 23 December 2014. Results were broadly comparable with those obtained by WIN/Gallup International, with 26% agreeing they were religious (10% strongly and 17% somewhat) and 52% disagreeing (17% somewhat and 35% strongly); the remaining 22% said they were neither religious nor irreligious. In light of these findings, it was unsurprising that 70% of the sample believed that it was not important to be a Christian in ord