According to opinion polling published in the past week, the British public is becoming uneasy about the advances being made by the armed forces of the Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS) in northern Iraq, its brutal persecution of ethno-religious minorities there, and the humanitarian crisis left in its wake.
A ComRes survey for ITV News, conducted online on 12 August 2014 among 1,088 adult Britons, found that 84% blamed IS for the current situation in Iraq. The same proportion wanted Britain to send humanitarian aid to the Yazidis then trapped by IS on Mount Sinjar, with 73% wishing to see British helicopters used to airlift them to safety. A plurality (45%) supported British fighter planes making airstrikes on the Islamists (which have yet to happen), but there was much less appetite (18%) for British troops becoming embroiled in ground combat against them. The potential fate of the Iraqi Christian community was a particular cause for concern, no fewer than 50% (including 62% of the over-65s) wanting Britain to give asylum to those currently at risk of death, even though no numbers were specified, just 29% being against. Full tables for these and other ComRes questions on Iraq are located at:
YouGov has conducted three polls, all online among samples of adults aged 18 and over: on 10-11 August 2014 (n = 1,676), 11-12 August 2014 (n = 1,942, for The Times), and 14-15 August 2014 (n = 2,019, for The Sunday Times). They revealed strong backing (around three-quarters) for the RAF’s involvement in the airlifting of humanitarian aid to members of religious minorities fleeing the Islamists, with a plurality of around two-fifths approving of RAF airstrikes against IS (albeit a majority backed similar action being taken by the Americans). However, only 28% endorsed the supply of arms by Britain to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting IS, with 44% opposed, and no more than one-fifth favoured the engagement of British and American ground troops against IS (58% disapproving). A potential British offer of asylum to ‘some of the Yazidi people’ was less popular than in the ComRes poll in respect of Iraqi Christians, approval running at 34% and disapproval at 46%. Two-thirds discerned IS to be a major or moderate threat to Britain itself. YouGov data tables are available as follows:
10-11 August 2014:
11-12 August 2014:
14-15 August 2014:
A Level results
This summer’s A Level results for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland were published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) on 14 August 2014. Entrants for Religious Studies (RS) numbered 24,213, a rise of 3.7% over the previous year, notwithstanding a 2.0% reduction in those for all subjects. RS entries represented 2.9% of all A Levels sat. RS A Level candidates were preponderantly female (69.3%), compared with the all subject average of 54.4%. The RS pass rate (at grades A*-E) in RS was 98.5%, half a point above the figure for all A Levels, with 24.8% gaining A* or A in RS (marginally down on the 25.5% for RS in 2013 and also lower than the 26.0% achieved for all subjects in 2014). Results are further disaggregated by the three home nations. Entries for the AS (Advanced Subsidiary) Level in RS rose even more impressively, by 12.2%, far more than the 5.0% for all AS Level subjects. The full JCQ tables are at:
Church of England finance statistics
The Church of England published its national and diocesan finance statistics for 2012 on 14 August 2014, in 25 pages of tables, figures, and commentary, and based on the annual parochial returns (as distinct from the central accounts of the Church Commissioners, which are entirely separate). After three years of deficit, parishes reached break-even point in 2012 through a combination of reductions in expenditure and increased giving. However, donor income, while at a record level, has not kept pace with inflation, being up by just 0.4% on the year (reflecting lower Gift Aid payments from HMRC and slightly fewer regular donors). Full details at:
Church of England clergy survey
The latest issue of the Church Times (15 August 2014, p. 5) reports that YouGov is to carry out an online survey of the background and attitudes of 5,000 Anglican clergy aged 70 and under, randomly selected from Crockford’s Clerical Directory. The poll has been commissioned by Professor Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University in connection with a new series of Westminster Faith Debates on ‘The Future of the Church of England’, to be held in Oxford during the autumn of 2014, in association with Ripon College Cuddesdon and the Church Times. For more information about the programme, go to:
Attitudes to homosexuality
The past half-century has witnessed a dramatic change in public views of homosexuality in Britain, as recently documented by Ben Clements and Clive Field in ‘Public Opinion Toward Homosexuality and Gay Rights in Great Britain’, Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 78, No. 2, Summer 2014, pp. 523-47. Deploying a wide range of attitudinal measures, presented in 31 tables and commentary, they demonstrate some of the key turning-points in this process of liberalization, including the setback brought about by AIDS in the mid-1980s and the rapid improvements in perceptions which have occurred since the Millennium. The abstract and options for accessing the full text of the article are located at:
In line with the journal’s template for contributions to its series of poll trends, the authors reproduce topline data only, for representative probability samples of adult Britons, and with no breaks by standard demographics, including religion (albeit relatively few surveys actually included religious affiliation as a variable). However, two of their tables do have a religion component, based on discontinued series of Gallup data. Table 14 summarizes answers to the question: ‘in your opinion, can a homosexual be a good Christian, Jew, etc. or not?’ In six of seven surveys between 1977 and 1993 around three-quarters answered in the affirmative, and just over one-tenth in the negative. However, much more discomfort was expressed about the appointment of homosexual clergy in six polls from 1977 to 1991 (Table 16), with the plurality (and, in 1986, a majority) opposed. Only in 1991 were more people reconciled to the prospect (49%) than not (41%).
Anti-Semitic incidents in Britain have certainly increased since armed conflict between Israel and Hamas erupted again in Gaza in early July 2014. So much so that, among British Jewry, ‘63% say there may be no future for Jews in UK.’ Thus proclaimed the headline on the front page of the current issue (15 August 2014) of The Jewish Chronicle, the percentage appearing in thick, bold characters almost seven centimetres high. In the relatively brief story which followed, the newspaper explained that: ‘in a straw poll conducted by the JC this week, 150 people were asked: “Since the protests against the war in Gaza began, have you or your friends had a discussion about whether there is a future for Jews in the UK?” Just over 63 per cent answered “yes”’.
More information was revealed in an editorial on p. 28: ‘This week’s front-page story is not something we ever thought would be published. The poll is not scientific; we simply approached 150 people randomly in the street. But it accurately reflects the overwhelming anecdotal evidence of recent weeks. Emphatically, that does not mean that 63 per cent of us are preparing to leave. But it is deeply shocking that the stench of antisemitism is now so pungent that many in our community feel the question has to be asked.’ In an obvious slip of the pen, the editor then proceeded misleadingly to describe the poll as ‘a random sample of British Jews’.
Given that the survey has been widely reported in the online media, in Britain and overseas, thereby acquiring some authority, it is important to recognize that this is little more than a ‘voodoo poll’, to use market research industry jargon, and not necessarily representative of Jewish opinion in the country. The small sample size and inadequate sample selection process undermine its wider validity. This is a useful reminder of the difficulties of gauging the views of religious minorities which are so thinly and/or unevenly spread as not to show up in sufficient numbers in nationally representative sample surveys of all adults.