Britain may be poised for a period of protest and civil unrest, according to a new survey by ComRes for Theos, the public theology think-tank, released on 3 March. Fieldwork was conducted online on 23-25 February 2011, among 2,003 adults aged 18 and over.
However, although 36% of all adults and 46% of the 18-24s exhibit a definite appetite to take direct action of some form, whether legal or illegal, in an effort to influence rules, laws or policies, religious liberty is the cause least likely to get citizens out on the metaphorical streets.
Given a list of ten issues which they might take direct action about, just 13% of interviewees picked religious liberty. This compared with 52% for fuel prices, 47% for public service cuts, 41% for tax rises, 35% for bank bonuses, 33% for the threat of losing one’s job, 25% for tax-avoidance by businesses, 19% for global poverty, 19% for student fees, and 17% for climate change. Short-term material concerns thus appear to have won out over moral agendas.
The sub-samples most exercised about religious liberty were the top (AB) social group (20%) and the over-65s (18%). Those least interested were 18-24s (6%), skilled manual workers (7%) and residents of Wales and South-West England (8%).
People concerned about religious liberty were found to prefer traditional methods of protest (such as signing a petition, lobbying a politician or wearing a campaign badge) rather than newer mechanisms (such as social media).
Respondents were also asked about their belief in God. 23% said that they did not believe in God; 19% that they did not know whether there is a God but there was no means of finding out; 17% had doubts but on balance did believe in God; 15% were convinced that God really exists and had no doubts; 13% disbelieved in a personal God but did believe in a higher power; and 10% believed in God some of the time but not at other times.
Combining the last four categories, we arrive at a figure of 55% for those who believed in God or a life force, but not necessarily without doubts or all of the time. The highs were 61% for women, 64% for the over-65s and 63% for residents of the South-East; the lows were 48% among men and 49% with the 18-24s. Outright disbelievers were especially concentrated in the 18-24 age cohort (33%).
The God question replicated the one used in the British Social Attitudes (BSA) Surveys. When this had first been put by BSA, in 1991, 74% believed, on this rather generous definition. The number was still 72% in 1998 but had fallen to 62% by 2008.
A final ComRes question about religious affiliation revealed that 33% of Britons espouse no religion, 58% profess to be Christian and 7% to subscribe to other belief systems. Irreligion is most prevalent among the young (52% with the 18-24s, 44% with the 25-34s) and least likely to be found among the over-65s (19%).
A summary of the ComRes/Theos research is available at:
and the full data tables at: