Horoscopes have been a prominent feature of British life since the 1930s and still regularly appear in newspapers and magazines and on websites. They form an important part of the complex spectrum of alternative ‘religious’ beliefs. But what credence do we attach to horoscopes?
Some clues have recently been provided by YouGov in a survey of a representative sample of 2,090 adult Britons aged 18 and over. They were interviewed online on 10-11 October. Full data tables and a commentary are now available at:
Unprompted, a mere 2% of Britons did not know what their star sign was, suggesting a high astrological awareness. 41% (26% of men and 55% of women) thought the set of characteristics attached to their star sign fairly summed up their own personality and exactly the same number took the opposing view.
While 39% never read their horoscope, 7% did so daily, 15% weekly, 13% monthly and 26% less frequently. Regular (monthly or more) readers were especially to be found among women (48%, against 20% of men) and the 18-24s (43%). Of all horoscope readers, two-thirds consulted them in newspapers, one-third in magazines and one-sixth on the internet.
Despite the attention paid to horoscopes, most of us do not rate their veracity. 83% considered them to have been inaccurate in predicting events in their personal lives, compared with 6% (rising to 10% of women) who said the contrary.
Just 7% agreed and 64% disagreed that horoscopes predict the future by monitoring the movements of cosmic objects. Only 5% (9% among the 18-24s) admitted that reading a horoscope had ever influenced a decision, action or event in their life.
55% contended that horoscopes have no grounding in reality and 77% dismissed them as vague statements presented in a way that makes them appear applicable to most individuals. 60% regarded horoscopes as harmless fun.
As a cross-check on the survey results, YouGov conducted an experiment, quoting a personality profile and a horoscope prediction for the past week which purported to be particular to the respondent’s own star sign.
In reality, everybody was shown the same profile and prediction. Amazingly, as many as 39% of the sample said the profile matched their own personality, although far fewer (13%) thought the prediction to be accurate.
Previous polling on astrology and horoscopes is not strictly comparable with the current survey. However, the available data (http://www.brin.ac.uk/figures/#ChangingBelief) do confirm the far greater propensity of women to believe in horoscopes than men.
The disproportionate appeal of horoscopes to the under-25s is also not new. While increasingly rejecting traditional Christian beliefs, there is a fair bit of evidence that the young are drawn to a variety of alternative religious systems.
One of the stranger correlations to emerge from this YouGov study related to Liberal Democrats. Although they are only average regular readers of horoscopes, they were somewhat more likely than voters for the other two main parties to think horoscopes can foretell the future and to have been influenced by reading a horoscope. And they were more convinced than the rest about the accuracy of their own spoof profile and prediction.