An established body of work in political science has confirmed continuing relationships between religious affiliation and support for different political parties (Kotler-Berkowitz 2001, Raymond 2011, Tilley 2015). The traditional adage that the Church of England is the Conservative Party at prayer – first suggested in a speech by the social reformer Maude Royden – appears to hold, as does the traditional association between the Free or Nonconformist Churches and liberalism, and Catholicism and the Labour Party, although this latter association is weakening over time (see Ben Clements’ piece for the LSE British Politics and Policy blog in 2017 for an overview).
Adherents of religions other than Christianity appear more likely to support the Labour Party. This may be due to differences originating primarily in ethnic minority status rather than religiosity per se. However, given the extensive overlaps between ethnicity and religious affiliation for some groups, it can be difficult to tease these associations apart.
In general, analysts use party identification or reported vote choice as measures of party attachment. Measures of party liking or ‘affect’, where respondents are asked their attitudes towards a range of parties even if they have not reported that they would choose to vote for them or identify most strongly with them, are useful in giving an indication of latent support for other parties.
The following estimates, tables and graphs are drawn from waves 1-16 of the British Election Study Internet Panel, fielded between February 2014 and May 2019. Most waves are timed around major electoral events, with additional periodic waves, and so in the graphs below the observations are not evenly-spaced.
About 30,000 participants responded at each wave, with over 92,000 participating at least once over the 16 waves to date. The questionnaire is administered online, with the panel drawn from the YouGov panel. Due to attrition over time, a panel ‘refresh’ took place in Wave 16. More detail on survey administration is available at www.britishelectionstudy.com.
Here, we examine associations between religious denomination and liking of a range of political parties: the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Green Party, and UKIP. Questions on liking of the SNP and Plaid Cymru were only posed to respondents in Scotland and Wales respectively, and are not included here. We have also omitted questions on liking of the BNP, Change UK – The Independent Group, and Democratic Unionist Party, which are only available for some waves.
Respondents were asked by YouGov, ‘Do you have a religious denomination?’ with responses coded as listed in the following worksheets. They were also asked, ‘How much do you like or dislike each of the following parties?‘ where 0 represented ‘strongly dislike’ and 10 ‘strongly like’. Those responding ‘don’t know’ were excluded from our analyses.
We took a simple mean for each religious group for each survey wave, reported in the following spreadsheet with 95% confidence intervals.
The spreadsheet is available here, summarising party liking by religious affiliation by survey wave.
We have also graphed responses over time for those of no religion, Anglicans, Catholics, Church of Scotland adherents, Methodists, Baptists, URC members, followers of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Orthodox Christians, Pentecostalists, and Evangelical Christians. Each of these groups had enough respondents to make valid estimates, though readers should nevertheless pay attention to the unweighted N in each row for each wave. (Note that sufficient numbers for Orthodox, Pentecostalist and Evangelical Christians were only available from Wave 7.)
Graphs are available in the worksheet above, or to view in the slideshows below, organised by party.
Attitudes towards the Conservative Party by Religious Affiliation
Attitudes towards the Labour Party by Religious Affiliation
Attitudes towards the Liberal Democrat Party by Religious Affiliation
Attitudes towards the Green Party by Religious Affiliation
Attitudes towards the UK Independence Party by Religious Affiliation
Data on religious affiliation is available as a ‘profile’ variable from YouGov’s own data on respondents, which they ensure is kept up-to-date. Having access to the profile variables means that the questionnaire can be freed up for additional survey questions on electoral behaviour and political attitudes, although it does mean that we cannot be sure when exactly respondents were asked their religious affiliation. The question on party affect was asked during the relevant period of fieldwork indicated on the horizontal axis of each graph.
Kotler-Berkowitz, L. 2001. “Religion and Voting Behaviour in Great Britain: A Reassessment.” British Journal of Political Science, 31 (3): 523-554.
Raymond, C. 2011. “The Continued Salience of Religious Voting in the United States, Germany, and Great Britain.” Electoral Studies 30 (1): 125-135.
Tilley, J. 2015. “We Don’t Do God’? Religion and Party Choice in Britain.” British Journal of Political Science 45 (4): 907-927.