Christian Research’s new online panel, called Resonate, is now up and running and open for business, according to a letter which accompanies the latest mailing to Christian Research members.
Based on two recent online surveys, ‘over 5,000 respondents agreed to be participants in ongoing research studies, and this has enabled us to compile the UK’s largest online panel of Christian churchgoers and clergy’.
An initial snapshot of the Resonate panel, included in the same mailing, shows that in July 2012 it comprised 4,000 churchgoers and 1,000 clergy drawn from 2,850 individual churches, with the following basic demographic characteristics:
- Gender: 52% male, 48% female (an underrepresentation of adult female worshippers, who constituted 58% at the English Church Census, 2005)
- Age: 4% under 30, 23% 30-49, 71% 50 and above (in 2005 65% were aged 45 and over)
- Marital status: 17% single, 67% in first marriage, 11% remarried, 3% widowed, 1% separated
- Employment status: 34% full time, 15% part time, 10% self-employed, 2% unemployed, 32% retired
- Voting in 2010 general election: Conservative 36%, Liberal Democrat 22%, Labour 14%, no answer 22%, did not vote 4%
These are evidently pretty devout Christians. 92% of them claim to attend church at least once a week and only 2% less than once a month. 82% say they read the Bible every day or most days. 76% give 5% or more of their net income to their church, and most seem to be involved in church leadership of one sort or another.
Denominationally, the panel is predominantly Protestant, with only 3% Roman Catholics (a constituency Christian Research has often found it difficult to reach). 39% are Anglicans. Among the Free Churches, it looks as though Baptists may be overrepresented. 7% do not state a confessional allegiance.
The panel is more internet-savvy than churchgoers as a whole, and this may have some impact on religious practices and attitudes. Whereas, by definition, 100% of Resonate members are internet users (with 52% also on Facebook and 17% blogging from a Christian perspective), the same is probably true for only a minority of all churchgoers (given their population pyramid is so top-heavy, skewed to older age cohorts who have been slow to get online, despite the ‘silver surfer’ phenomenon).
Obviously, these are very early days for Resonate, and BRIN naturally wishes the new commercial service well. Nevertheless, over time, Christian Research will need to demonstrate to its clients, members and users that it is addressing any known or perceived imbalances in the make-up of the panel, to ensure that it is reasonably representative of all churchgoing Christians. This could be achieved through targeted panel recruitment, selection of respondents for individual surveys, and weighting (where contextual demographics are available).
Similar methodological challenges have faced online surveys of research panels in general, since they appeared in the late 1990s. They have now almost become the norm among some polling organizations, as they can be conducted at a much lower cost and with greater speed than alternative forms of interviewing (face-to-face or telephone, or self-completion postal questionnaire).
They have proved particularly useful for capturing the views and behaviours of small, niche and spatially concentrated interest groups which are hard to reach in sufficient numbers through conventional national sample surveys, however large-scale. YouGov (launched in 2000) has had particular success in this regard, its British panel currently including 360,000 adults. BRIN has so far recorded 190 YouGov polls touching on aspects of religion.
Nor is Resonate the only online panel of Christians to be operating in the UK at present, although it seems to be the first to extend to clergy. Cpanel has been run by ComRes for the past four years, albeit its normal sample size is only around 500 churchgoing Christians. Data are weighted to reflect the profile of churchgoers in the English Church Census, 2005.
The Evangelical Alliance also runs a research panel of more than 3,000 evangelical Christians, just over one-third of whom respond to any particular quarterly survey. This is described by its parent body as ‘an opportunity sample of self-selecting volunteers’. So far as can be seen, no weighting is applied to the results.
Further details about Resonate can be obtained from Abbie Heath – firstname.lastname@example.org