Twice as many adults think that Britain today is too secular as deem it too religious, but just over one-half believe that religion in Britain is in terminal decline and that religion in general is more often a cause of evil than of good in the world.
These are some of the key findings from the latest YouGov survey for The Sunday Times, and published today. Online interviews were conducted with a sample of 1,772 Britons aged 18 and over on 16 and 17 February 2012. Data tables can be found at:
The first of eight questions on religion was ‘Do you think that religion is more often the cause of good or evil in the world?’ Only 12% elected for good, and no more than 17% in any demographic sub-group. 58% opted for evil, with the main variation being by gender (61% of men, 54% of women). 27% said that neither answer applied or both equally.
With regard to religion in Britain, 17% viewed Britain today as too religious, 36% as too secular, 31% as balanced between religious and secular, and 17% expressed no opinion. Men and the under-40s were marginally more likely to describe Britain as too religious, Conservatives, the over-60s and Londoners as too secular.
49% agreed that religion still provides critical guidance for our everyday lives, with 40% dissenting and 12% unsure. The age cohort with the lowest level of agreement was 25-59 years (43%). While the peak of 61% among the over-60s was to be expected, less predictable was the 50% recorded for the 18-24s.
Respondents were next asked whether the Church of England continues to carry out a valuable role, a question obviously prompted by Her Majesty the Queen’s speech at Lambeth Palace on 15 February.
YouGov’s respondents were split on this issue, with 42% agreeing, 41% disagreeing, and 16% unsure. Most support for the Church came from Conservative voters (55%), partially justifying ‘the Tory Party at prayer’ sobriquet; least backing was found in Scotland (32%).
Since the Church of England is established (albeit only in England), it might seem slightly odd that 67% contended that religion should have no place in public life, being entirely a personal matter. Even Conservatives showed no deviation from this norm. 24% wanted religion to have a role in the public square, including 28% of the 18-24s.
51% assessed that religion in Britain is in terminal decline, with no great fluctuation by demographics. 24% disagreed and 26% did not know what to think, the largest proportion of undecided for any of the questions in this survey.
Belief in God stood at 38%, with 21% unsure, and 33% disbelieving. Believers were twice as numerous among Conservatives (45%) as Liberal Democrats (22%), and they were also somewhat concentrated in the over-60s (44%) and in Scotland (45%).
The final topic, triggered by the Bideford case, was whether local councils should be able to hold prayers at the beginning of their meetings. 53% of adults thought that they should (peaking at 66% of Conservatives and 65% of over-60s), 32% that they should not, with 15% undecided.
The pro-prayer lobby of 53% is consistent with the 55% figure obtained in another recent poll on the same subject, covered by BRIN at:
All in all, this YouGov survey for The Sunday Times exemplifies the continuing hybrid of religiosity and secularity which characterizes British life. While the proponents of faith and non-faith progressively ‘up the ante’, public opinion declines to be completely and consistently polarized between the rival camps.