This short BRIN post is the second one looking at religious data in Britain based on analysis of the European Social Survey (ESS), a cross-national survey which has so far involved seven waves conducted every two years since 2002. The first BRIN post is available here:
This second post looks at the attitudes of religious groups on a selection of political issues, using the most recent ESS survey from 2014. In each wave, the UK adult population has been sampled, but the analysis here is restricted to those living in Britain (and so excluding the small subset of respondents in Northern Ireland). The ESS country datasets for the UK can be downloaded (along with accompanying documentation) from the ESS website:
The ESS has regularly asked two questions which gauge support for political parties. Firstly, a question asking whether respondents feel close to a party and, if they do, which one. Secondly, a question asking about which party they supported in the most recent national election (if the respondent said they had voted).
Responses to these two questions in the 2014 ESS are displayed in Figure 1 (feel close to a party) and Figure 2 (party supported at most recent national election), based on five categories of religious affiliation (CofE / Anglican, Roman Catholic, other Christian, other religion, no religion).
On both measures – voting behaviour in the 2010 general election and general closeness to a party – the traditional party-denominational linkage between Anglicans and the Conservative Party is upheld. Anglicans are more likely to feel close to the Conservatives than to Labour or any other party; while around half said they voted Tory in the 2010 general election.
Figure 1: Party feel close to, by religious affiliation
All other groups are more likely to feel close to Labour than to the Conservatives; with this difference most pronounced for those affiliated to non-Christian religions. Similarly, all groups (except for Anglicans) reported that they were more likely to have backed Labour in 2010, with the divide again most pronounced for those from non-Christian religions. Those within group were around three times as likely to feel close to Labour compared to the Conservatives and three times as likely to have voted for Labour than the Conservatives in 2010.
It is worth noting that, for each religious group, the most common response when asked is to not feel close to any party (highest at nearly three-fifths of those from a non-Christian religion).
Figure 2: Party voted for at most recent national election, by religious affiliation
To gauge left-right ideological position, the ESS surveys have asked respondents to locate themselves on a scale ranging from 0 to 10, where 0 represents most left-wing and 10 represents most right-wing. The average score for each group on this scale is shown in Figure 3. It is evident that Anglicans position themselves more to the right than the other groups, with a mean score of 5.5, ahead of other Christians with an average of 5.2. The other three groups have somewhat lower averages of 4.8 or 4.9.
Of all the groups, then, Anglicans are most likely to express support for the Conservative Party and are more right-wing in their ideological positioning.
Figure 3: Mean scores on left-right self-placement scale, by religious affiliation
Note: 0-10 scale, where 0=most left-wing and 10=most right-wing.
Attitudes towards Gays and Lesbians
The ESS surveys have asked a question about gays and lesbians being able to live life as they wish. Respondents’ views are gauged by a Likert scale running from strongly agree through to strongly disagree. Here, the strongly agree and agree categories, and the disagree and strongly disagree categories, have been combined. Figure 4 reports the responses for the religious groups. For all groups a majority agrees with the statement – highest at 92% of those with no religion and lowest at 57% of those from some other religion. Very small proportions disagree, although this rises to a fifth of those belonging to some other religion (and which outweighs the proportion with a neutral viewpoint).
Figure 4: Attitudes towards gays and lesbians being free to live life as they wish, by religious affiliation
Respondents’ opinion on European integration are measured by means of a self-placement scale asking about unification. On this scale, a score of 1 indicates that unification has already gone too far and a score of 10 indicates unification should go further. The mean scores are shown in Figure 5. All group scores are below the scale mid-point, but they are somewhat higher for Catholics (4.4) and those belonging to some other religion (4.6). Anglicans registered the lowest mean score (at 3.2).
Figure 5: Mean scores on a European unification self-placement scale, by religious affiliation
Note: 0-10 scale, where 0=unification has already gone too far and 10=unification should go further.
Finally, the ESS has asked a series of questions on immigration – responses to three of which are shown in Figure 6. It reports the mean scores by religious group for three self-placement scales where respondents have been asked: whether immigration is generally good or bad for the country’s economy; whether the country’s cultural life is generally undermined or enriched by immigration; and whether immigrants make the country a better or worse place to live. The scales ranged from 0 to 10, with higher values representing more more positive evaluations.
Across all three questions, more positive assessments of the effects of immigration come from Catholics and those from non-Christian religions. Less favourable evaluations are evident on the part of Anglicans and those with no religion.
Figure 6: Mean scores on immigration self-placement scales, by religious affiliation
Note: 0-10 scales, where higher scores represent more positive evaluations of the effects of immigration and immigrants.
The 2014 ESS also included a special module of questions asking about various aspects of immigration. Responses to two such questions with a religious theme are displayed in Figure 7, which also used self-placement scales ranging from 0 to 10. Again, mean scores are presented for each religious group. Firstly, in response to a question asking how important it is for someone to have a Christian background when deciding on whether an immigrant can come and live in this country. A score of 0 equals extremely unimportant and a score of 10 equals extremely important. Secondly, in response to a question asking whether, in general, religious beliefs and practices are undermined or enriched by immigrants coming to live in this country. A score of 0 represents a view that beliefs and practices are undermined; a score of 10 that they are enriched.
Anglicans were more likely to think that having a Christian background was an important factor when making decisions to admit immigrants (at 4.1, but clearly below the midpoint of the scale). Those from other religions were least likely (at 2.0), followed by those with no religion (2.2). Those belonging to non-Christian religions were the most positive in their assessment of the impact of immigration on religious beliefs and practices (5.9); Anglicans were least positive, with a mean score of 4.0.
Figure 7: Mean scores on immigration self-placement scales, by religious affiliation
 Christian background: 0-10 scale, where a score of 0 equals extremely unimportant and a score of 10 equals extremely important
 Religious beliefs and practices: 0-10 scale, where a score of 0 represents a view that beliefs and practices are undermined; a score of 10 that they are enriched