We recently reported (http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=517) on an opinion poll conducted in Scotland on attitudes towards the forthcoming (16-19 September) state and pastoral visit of Pope Benedict XVI to England and Scotland. Today (4 September) two surveys conducted among representative samples of adults throughout Great Britain have been published.
The first was conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Roman Catholic weekly The Tablet. 996 adults aged 15 and over (including 117 professing Catholics) were interviewed face-to-face between 20 and 26 August. Elena Curti’s article in The Tablet, with a link to Powerpoint slides containing additional data, will be found at:
Respondents were first shown photographs of six public figures. 95% correctly identified Prince Charles, 90% David Cameron (prime minister), 86% Simon Cowell (music executive and entrepreneur) and 73% Fabio Capello (England football manager). Recognition of the leaders of the worldwide Roman Catholic and Anglican communions, Pope Benedict and Archbishop Rowan Williams, was lower at 65% and 50% respectively. Even among Catholics recognition of the Pope was only 77%.
Asked about their attitudes to the papal visit, 25% of Britons supported it. This is more than double the proportion of Catholics in the population. Support was strongest in London (39%). 11% opposed the visit, six points more than in the Scottish poll (although the fieldwork there was carried out three months ago). 63% were neutral, exactly the same figure as in Scotland, and confirming that lack of interest may be the main threat to the success of the visit. Unsurprisingly, 71% of Catholics supported the visit.
11% of all adults said that they were certain, very likely or fairly likely to attend one of the public events at which the Pope will be present. This rose to 29% among Catholics. Both numbers are somewhat improbable, if only because security and health and safety considerations are severely limiting the capacities of the three big events in Glasgow, London and Birmingham.
They are possibly slightly more realistic if interpreted to include those who will line the streets to see the Pope pass in his Popemobile. Additionally, 22% of all adults and 68% of Catholics intended to follow the Pope’s visit through the print, broadcast or online news media.
In a test of their religious knowledge, 93% of all respondents knew that the Pope is head of the Roman Catholic Church, but only 63% that women priests were not permitted by that Church. 77% were aware that the Queen is supreme governor of the Church of England, but just 55% that (under the Act of Settlement) a member of the royal family has to renounce their title to the throne if married to a Catholic (with 44% thinking this is wrong).
41% (78% of Catholics) considered that, on balance, the Roman Catholic Church is a force for good, 11% less than said the same about religion in general. 67% wanted Britain to retain its Christian culture, with 8% disagreeing, while 49% supported and 28% opposed religious organizations running schools. 49% (including 75% of Catholics) welcomed the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has strong moral views, but only 11% (15% of Catholics) thought that it had handled well allegations of the sexual abuse of children by priests.
The second survey was carried out by ComRes on behalf of Theos, the public theology thinktank. 2,005 Britons aged 18 and over were interviewed online between 25 and 26 August. Full data tabulations, with breaks by standard demographics, are available at:
Different questions were posed about the papal visit than in the Ipsos MORI survey, but they point to a similar conclusion: ‘apathy rather than hostility is the order of the day’, in the words of Paul Woolley, Director of Theos.
Personal interest in the visit ran at a lowly 14%, with 79% having no interest. 33% disagreed that the visit was good for Britain (29% agreeing), with 24% disapproving of it (against 49% approving). Three-quarters were opposed to the visit being part-funded by the taxpayer, even when reminded that this is the first ever state visit by a Pope to Britain.
Additional questions were asked about the Pope’s leadership, with somewhat mixed results. 31% thought it good to have a politically unaffiliated world leader like the Pope to pronounce on moral issues, with 45% disagreeing. 36% wanted him to speak out on socio-political issues and 41% not. However, only 18% agreed that he generally responds wisely to problems in the world today, 49% disagreeing.
The main thrust of the Theos survey was to see how far public opinion was aligned with Roman Catholic social teaching, especially as enshrined in Pope Benedict’s third papal encyclical Caritas in Veritate. Although 40% of people said that they generally disagreed with the Pope’s views on current affairs, Theos claims that the poll demonstrates that ‘in fact, the public rather likes the Pope’s social teaching’.
Twelve ‘representative’ statements were extracted from this encyclical, spanning the environment, economics, human rights and sexuality. It was found that a significant majority of adult Britons agreed with eleven of them, the range being from 58% to 90%. The only statement people disagreed with (81%) was ‘poverty is often produced by a rejection of God’s love’.
Commenting on the poll on the Theos website, Richard Norman is critical of this section of the Theos survey. He writes:
‘A classic example of loading an opinion poll by choosing the right questions. Of course if you choose bits of Catholic teaching which most people would agree with anyway, and which are in no way distinctive of or specific to the Catholic Church, then you can claim that “the public rather likes the Pope’s social teaching”. If you had chosen more distinctive and high-profile papal views, on abortion, birth control, euthanasia, homosexuality, and the role of women, and asked the public whether they agreed with these, your conclusion would have to be “the public strongly dislikes the Pope’s social teaching”. I’m afraid your poll is, frankly, dishonest.’