Current Voting Intentions and Other News


Current voting intentions

We are almost through the party political conference season for another year, and the 2015 general election campaign seems already to have started, so it is perhaps an appropriate time to review the state of the ‘religious vote’ in the country. Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of another of Lord Ashcroft’s large-scale polls, this time conducted online among 8,053 voters between 12 and 17 September 2014. Voting intentions for the four main parties by religious affiliation are summarized in the table below, from which it will be seen that by far the most significant trend to emerge is the predisposition to support the Labour Party of non-Christians in general and Muslims in particular. This will almost certainly have been shaped by the younger age profile of non-Christians (49.3% of whom were aged 18-34 compared with 28.0% of the whole sample) but may also reflect past gratitude to the former Labour government for its legislative support of religious diversity and equality (although that administration’s foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan had a countervailing influence in the Muslim community).

%   across

























No religion





Prefer not to say





In terms of religious affiliation, 37.9% of adults in this survey professed no religion, five points more than in equivalent polls conducted between January and June 2011 (32.8%). The number of Christians reduced by more than three points during the same three-year interval (from 56.6% to 53.2%). So, on this particular measure of religiosity at least, Britain seems to be secularizing at quite a rapid pace. For more information, see pp. 136-7 of the data tables at:

Islamic State

A round-up of recent polling on the Islamic State (IS) crisis in Iraq and Syria follows, arranged by date of fieldwork (which preceded the announcement of the murder by IS of a second British hostage, Alan Henning). Unless otherwise stated, surveys were conducted among online samples of Britons aged 18 and over. Topline results only are cited, but breaks by demographics are available by following the links.

26-28 September 2014

In a ComRes telephone poll for The Independent among a sample of 1,007, a majority (56%) of the public disagreed with the suggestion that ‘the situation in Iraq and Syria is none of our business and we should stay out of it’, against 38% who agreed. However, somewhat fewer (48%) thought that taking part in military action against IS would make Britain safer in the longer term, with 42% dissenting. David Cameron as current prime minister was more trusted than prospective prime minister Ed Miliband to make the right decisions on how to combat IS (45% versus 28%), albeit the plurality (49%) still distrusted Cameron. Data tables are at:

26-28 September 2014

In another ComRes poll, this time conducted for ITV News among 2,024 individuals, 56% approved of British air strikes against IS in Iraq (twice the number disapproving) and 48% in Syria, but far fewer (29%) endorsed the engagement of British ground troops, with 51% opposed. The reasons given by those supporting air strikes were: the threat posed by IS to Britain (77%), the need to take action in the face of atrocities in the world (67%), and the beheading of British and American hostages (66%). Drivers for opposing air strikes included: the prospects of the conflict becoming longer and messier (77%), the lack of clear objectives (47%), the fact that it was none of Britain’s business (43%), the expense of involvement (41%), and Britain’s poor previous record of military action in Iraq (39%). Data tables are at:

1-2 October 2014

IS was the most noticed news story of last week for 26% of the public, according to a Populus poll of 2,014. The death of Alice Gross came second, with 17%, and the Conservative Party conference third, with 11%.

2-3 October 2014

The regular YouGov poll for The Sunday Times, which interviewed 2,130, revealed approval for RAF participation in air strikes against IS to be unchanged from the previous week, at 58% in the case of operations in Iraq and 52% in Syria, although opposition was up by 3% in both cases. People were evenly split, at 42% each, in thinking that air strikes in Iraq would be effective or ineffective in combating IS, but the majority (51%) remained hostile to the commitment of ground troops in Iraq, with only 28% in favour. Data tables are at:

Faith schools

The House of Commons Library has recently issued a short briefing note on faith schools in England (reference SN/SP/6972). It includes, at pp. 9-12, a useful digest of relevant statistics, including the number of such schools disaggregated by faith community and educational status, the number of pupils, and performance in GCSE examinations. The note is available at:

Religion of armed services personnel

The United Kingdom’s armed service personnel remain overwhelmingly Christian in their religious allegiance, but the proportion is slowly declining, according to the Ministry of Defence’s Statistical Series 2 – Personnel Bulletin 2.01, which was published on 25 September 2014. Back in 2009, 87% of personnel professed to be Christian but the figure fell to 80% in 2014. There was a corresponding rise in the number claiming to have no religion, from 12% to 18%, rising to 25% in the case of the Royal Navy (with the Royal Air Force on 21% and the Army on 15%). The proportion of non-Christians continues to be very low (2% across all three services combined), and much less than in the population at large. There is more detail in Table 2.01.09 at:

Church in Wales statistics

The Church in Wales Membership and Finances, 2013 was one of the papers presented to the meeting of the Church’s Governing Body on 17-18 September 2014. In terms of membership, the report suggests, ‘there are no positive indicators: every field shows decline compared with the previous year, and in some cases that decline is significant’. Most serious was the 18% fall in confirmations between 2012 and 2013, with marriages down 13%, Easter communicants by 10% (on top of an 8% fall from 2011 to 2012), and average attendance by the under-18s by 9%. Average adult attendances reduced by 4% on Sundays and 5% on weekdays. Parochial income and expenditure likewise decreased, by 7% and 4% respectively, albeit a modest operating surplus of £491,000 was achieved. Weekly direct giving per attender grew by 4% in the year, above the rate of inflation, to stand at £9.11; indeed, the overall growth in such giving since 1990 has exceeded the retail prices index by 18% (113% versus 95%). The report is at:

Jewish identity

The Institute for Jewish Policy Research published on 18 September 2014 a supplementary report on the results of its 2011 National Jewish Student Survey: David Graham, Strengthening Jewish Identity: What Works? An Analysis of Jewish Students in the UK. The underlying dataset includes 36 different measures of Jewish identity for almost 1,000 Jewish students. Through factor analysis they were collapsed into six broad indicators of identity: cognitive religiosity; socio-religious behaviour; cultural religiosity; ethnocentricity; student community engagement; and Jewish values. Although Jewish educational programmes were found to have some positive and independent impact on Jewish identity, overall the effect was six times weaker than that of a Jewish upbringing. The impact of Jewish education was strongest in terms of socio-religious behaviour, including practices such as synagogue attendance and Sabbath observance. The most important educational initiatives, from the perspective of impact on Jewish identity, were revealed to be those involving a seminary experience or gap year in Israel. The report, which also contains reflections on the findings by Jonathan Boyd, is available at:

Historic Methodist spirituality

British Methodism holds the record for publishing the longest annual national series of membership returns, starting in 1766. Underpinning them, especially in the earliest days, were the detailed registers of members for the rounds or circuits into which the country was divided. Some of these have survived and provide the basis for an analysis of Methodist membership by gender, marital status, and occupational background. These were systematically examined many years ago by Clive Field, and the results published in ‘The Social Composition of English Methodism to 1830: A Membership Analysis’, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, Vol. 76, No. 1, Spring 1994, pp. 153-78. This article is freely available at:

A few of these registers went even further and, by means of symbols (dots, question marks, letters, and strokes), categorized Methodist members according to their spiritual state, as perceived by the ministers, along a continuum from awakening through justification to sanctification. This aspect of the listings, which had generally been discontinued by the time of John Wesley’s death in 1791, has been less often studied – until now: Robert Schofield, ‘Methodist Spiritual Condition in Georgian Northern England’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 65, No. 4, October 2014, pp. 780-802. Using data especially from the Keighley Round for 1763-65, but also four other circuits (three of them in the North), Schofield demonstrates through ten tables and four figures that both short-term recruitment to and leakage from Methodism were considerable and that the majority of members did not experience spiritual growth over a twelve-month period. For access options, go to:

Another new publication to make good use of Methodist statistics is Jonathan Rodell, The Rise of Methodism: A Study of Bedfordshire, 1736-1851 (Publications of the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, Vol. 92, Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2014, ISBN 978-0-85155-079-4, £25.00). Its 16 tables examine the number and demographics of Wesleyan and Moravian members; the occupations of fathers of children baptised by Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists; and attendances at chapel and Sunday school in the 1851 religious census.


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