Politico-Religious News

Today’s post (the 600th on BRIN in just over three years) examines three newly-released surveys which explore the intersection between religion and political issues.

Same-sex marriage

The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill for England and Wales has now completed the Committee Stage in the House of Commons and is awaiting a date for Report and Third Reading Stage prior to the measure’s consideration by the House of Lords. Meanwhile, New Zealand last week became the thirteenth country to legislate for same-sex marriage, with a final vote to take place on the issue (and same-sex adoption) in France’s National Assembly next Tuesday.

Christian views on the matter in Britain were openly discussed last Thursday in the fifth of this year’s series of Westminster Faith Debates, and, as with the other debates, the discussion was informed by new survey data from a YouGov poll commissioned by Professor Linda Woodhead and conducted online between 25 and 30 January 2013 among a representative sample of 4,437 adult Britons. The data tables should be posted on YouGov’s public archive site during the next few days, at:


More immediately, there is some coverage of the results (especially as they affect Catholics) in The Tablet for 20 April 2013 (pp. 10 and 30) and also a press release at:


Among Britons as a whole, 52% thought that same-sex couples should be allowed to get married, 34% disagreed, and 14% did not know what to think. There were significant differences between people of faith and those without: whereas 69% of those professing no religion favoured same-sex marriage, and only 20% dissented, persons affiliating to a religion evenly split at 43% for and against.

In terms of faith traditions, the greatest opposition to same-sex marriage was to be found with Muslims (59%), followed by Baptists (50%). Hostility also correlated with strength of religious attachment. Thus, it reached above-average levels among those describing themselves as religious (53%), actively practising their faith (46%), definite believers in God or a higher power (48%), also those who said their lives were guided by religious leaders (67%), their religion (58%), religious teachings (56%), or God (54%).

A second question asked respondents whether they felt same-sex marriage to be right or wrong. Among all Britons, 46% said right and 34% wrong, but religious people were more likely to say wrong (44%) than right (37%), while the no religion group was strongly inclined to say right (63% compared with 20% wrong). Muslims (64%), Baptists (55%), and Sikhs (54%) were especially prone to regard same-sex marriage as wrong, as were the self-assessed religious (54%), and those deriving guidance from religious leaders (67%), their religion (59%), religious teachings (58%), or God (57%). Excluding don’t knows, Christians divided 56% wrong and 44% right.

Overall, 44% of Britons disapproved of the opposition to same-sex marriage of the mainstream Christian Churches, with 33% choosing to back the Churches, and 23% uncertain. Hostility to the Churches’ stance against same-sex marriage was notable among Labour and Liberal Democrat voters (54% and 56% respectively), the 18-24s (56%), Scots (52%), degree-holders (54%), those professing no religion (60%), definite disbelievers in God (60%), and those whose lives were guided by science (55%). Agreement with the Churches’ line was concentrated among Conservatives (46%), the over-60s (51%), Baptists (60%), Muslims (52%), the self-styled religious (54%), individuals practising their faith (51%), definite believers in God (50%), and among those guided by religious leaders (65%), their religion (58%), religious teachings (57%), or God (56%).

Notwithstanding a tendency for people of faith to be disproportionately less disposed to same-sex marriage, among Christians who contended that same-sex marriage is wrong only 26% explicitly cited religion or scripture as the basis for their opposition. More common explanations of their position were the assertion that marriage should be between a man and a woman (79%), the claim that same-sex marriage would undermine the traditional family of a mother and a father (63%), and the conviction that it is not the best context in which to bring up children (52%). Christians who regarded same-sex marriage as right viewed the matter in terms of equality (77%) and the non-exclusivity of faithful love to heterosexual couples (70%).

It should be remembered that the fieldwork for this YouGov poll took place immediately before the Second Reading debate on the Bill on 5 February, when the salience of same-sex marriage was very high in respect of public opinion and the media. It is possible that views have shifted somewhat since, because either a) the salience of the issue has dropped, b) the fall-out from the Cardinal O’Brien affair in Scotland has made Church lobbying against the Bill somewhat less credible in England and Wales, or c) some Christians accept the inevitability of the Bill becoming law, given the substantial Commons majority at Second Reading.

On the last point, it is certainly the case that the Churches have had to accommodate themselves to all manner of things over the years which instinctively they did not like the sound of. These include civil partnerships which, however lauded by most Church leaders now (as justification for same-sex marriage not being needed), were widely opposed by people of faith at the time of their introduction.

Politics, ethnicity, and religion

Lord Ashcroft has taken advantage of the forty-fifth anniversary of Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech on immigration to commission Populus to undertake a survey of black and minority ethnic (BME) opinions on politics and multiculturalism. Telephone interviews were conducted with 1,035 BME Britons aged 18 and over between 22 March and 15 April 2013, comprising 501 Muslims, 150 Hindus, 100 Sikhs, 265 affiliates of other faiths, and a mere 18 persons (2%) professing no religion. Results, with breaks by religion, were published on 19 April in the form of both summary and full tables, available at:



The economic situation was viewed as the most important issue facing the country by most BMEs, including 57% of Muslims, 57% of Hindus, and 60% of Sikhs. Muslims and Sikhs had more confidence in the Labour team (Ed Miliband and Ed Balls) than the Conservative team (David Cameron and George Osborne) to manage the economy, 54% versus 30% for Muslims, and 51% versus 41% for Sikhs. Hindus, by contrast, placed more trust in the Conservative than Labour team (51% compared with 43%). A majority of Muslims (51%) and a plurality of Hindus (45%) and Sikhs (46%) also thought that Labour had the best plans for dealing with Britain’s overall problems.

Majorities of the three religious groups agreed that ‘if you work hard, it is possible to be very successful in Britain, no matter what your background’ (68% of Muslims, 73% of Hindus, and 70% of Sikhs). They also felt that their children’s lives would be better than theirs (57%, 60%, and 62% respectively), and – overwhelmingly – that Britain had become a multicultural nation (88%, 91%, and 88%). The Labour Party and its leader were seen as most supportive of multiculturalism by all three faith communities, followed by the Liberal Democrats, and with the Conservatives last. Most Muslims (62%) and Hindus (55%) had never heard of Enoch Powell, but the proportion was less (38%) for Sikhs, albeit only 40% even of these knew who Powell was and what he had said. Somewhat ironically, 32% of Muslims, 37% of Hindus, and 49% of Sikhs thought immigration into Britain had been ‘a bad thing’.

Jews and the news

The BBC is by far the most important provider of terrestrial television news (88% in the past seven days) and online news (52% in the past seven days) for British Jews, but the vast majority (79%, rising to 93% of Conservative voters) consider BBC news coverage to be biased against Israel (36% heavily so and 43% somewhat). Only 14% regard the coverage as generally balanced. In terms of newspapers, The Times and Sunday Times are the most widely read titles (46% of Jews having read the print version and 23% the online version during the previous week), as was also the case in 1995.

These are among the headlines from a report by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research which was published on 15 April 2013. Coincidentally, they are appearing at the same time as it was announced that James Harding, the Jewish former editor of The Times, has been appointed as the BBC’s new director of current affairs and news. David Graham’s Jews and the News: News Consumption Habits and Opinions of Jews in Britain is available at:


As is acknowledged in the introduction, the research now entering the public domain is actually relatively old, being undertaken between 7 January and 14 February 2010 among a self-selecting sample of 4,081 British Jews who completed an online questionnaire hosted by Ipsos MORI. Although the data have been weighted by synagogue membership, secular-religious outlook, and educational attainment, it is conceded that they may over-represent individuals interested in politics and international affairs. BRIN has already covered the first report from the survey (2010), dealing with the attitudes of British Jews toward Israel, at:



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