Religious Vote and Other News

Is there a religious vote?

A religious vote continues to exist in Britain, particularly as regards disproportionate Anglican and Jewish preferences for the Conservative Party and Catholic and Muslim preferences for the Labour Party. However, the association between religion and politics is by no means straightforward nor consistently strong (and probably weaker than yesteryear). It is also shaped by other socio-economic factors (notably class), and it is not necessarily driven by the saliency of religious or moral issues. Theo-political alignments certainly seem to be less powerful in Britain than the well-researched religious vote in the United States, albeit the latter can sometimes be exaggerated. These are some of the impressions left from a reading of the latest Theos report, published on 24 January 2014, by Ben Clements (University of Leicester) and Nick Spencer (Theos) on Voting and Values in Britain: Does Religion Count? It can be downloaded from:

This 123-page book, which packs in no fewer than 66 figures and 22 tables, is underpinned by secondary analysis of the British Election Studies from 1964 (including the special surveys of ethnic minorities in 1997 and 2010) and the British Social Attitudes Surveys since 2000. Its first two chapters map religious affiliation and attendance to voting yesterday (at 14 general elections between 1959 and 2010) and today (2010 and beyond, albeit omitting the recent large-scale polls by Lord Ashcroft, doubtless because he does not differentiate between Christian denominations). The third to fifth chapters map the same factors to three scales of political values (left versus right; libertarian versus authoritarian; and welfarist versus individualist), while an appendix presents the results of multivariate analysis of vote choice at the 2010 general election (drawing on the special internet panel of voters).

The findings and arguments of this work are (commendably) too nuanced and granular to restate here. Nobody could accuse the authors of over-simplification or of unevidenced assertions, such is the care with which the analysis and interpretation have been undertaken. They even resist a speculation about the likely effects on political behaviour and values of the progressive collapse of Anglican nominalism and rise of people of no religion. Consideration of the latter would have been especially interesting as they document a shift from libertarianism to authoritarianism among the ‘nones’ during the past decade. The book contains no overarching conclusion, although chapters 1 and 2 have separate summaries and conclusions, and the executive summary extends to 11 pages, reflecting the wide range of statistics.

Given all this complexity, by way of an appetizer, we confine ourselves to reproducing below a reformulated table 1.1 (p. 35) which shows average party vote share (in percentages) by religious group for all general elections between 1959 and 2010, calculated from the British Election Studies:



















Church of Scotland/Presbyterian




No religion




A Theos press release about the report, also issued on 24 January, offers a more bite-size overview under the heading ‘Anglicans are still “Tory Party at Prayer” but Muslims are Labour’s to Lose’. In it Spencer is quoted as saying that the report demonstrates that ‘religious block votes do not exist in Britain as many claim they do in America.’ On the other hand, he adds, ‘there are clear and significant alignments between various religious and political camps, of which politicians should be aware. At a time when mass party membership, political ideology and party tribalism are at a low ebb, we should pay attention to the big political values that shape our voting behaviour.’ The press release is at:

Disestablishment of the Church of England

Clements and Spencer have also taken a fresh look at ‘Public Opinion in Britain towards the Disestablishment of the Church of England’ in the FirstView edition of their article for the Journal of Anglican Studies, published online on 17 January 2014, and available for non-subscribers to rent or purchase. The paper derives from responses to the question about the Church of England’s continuing establishment asked in the Alternative Vote Referendum Study in Spring 2011, the importance of which Clements has already flagged up in his BRIN post of 21 May 2012. The sample is a very large one (n = 22,124 for Britain and 18,556 for England), thereby permitting a very detailed analysis.

Overall, 56% in England agreed that the Church of England should keep its status as the official established Church, with 15% disagreeing, and 29% neutral or undecided. The figures for Britain were 54%, 16%, and 31% respectively. Respondents most supportive of disestablishment were found to be men, residents of Scotland, those with degree-level education, Liberal Democrat identifiers and others with left-wing and liberal policy preferences, and readers of The Guardian. No significant differences by age group were discovered, despite generational variations in religious belonging, beliefs, and practice evident in other surveys. A limitation of the data source is that no information was gathered about religious affiliation, so religion is the one variable which cannot be controlled for. The article can be accessed at:

Attitudes to the burka

Last summer and autumn we reported on a series of new polls of public attitudes to the wearing of the burka and full face-veil (niqab) by Muslim women in Britain. The issue is also live in several other Western countries, and the ethical, political, and legal dimensions of the matter are explored in a collection of French-language essays published on 16 January 2014: Quand la burqa passe à l’ouest: enjeux éthiques, politiques et juridiques, edited by David Koussens and Olivier Roy (Presses Universitaires de Rennes, ISBN 978-2-7535-2844-4, 280pp., €20). The chapters are a mixture of generic discussion and individual case studies, of France (particularly), Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy, and Quebec. The former include a digest of multinational polling about the burka and attitudes to Muslims in general by Ben Clements: ‘La burqa dans l’opinion publique des sociétés occidentales’ (pp. 39-52). It comprises 11 tables, with commentary, drawn from: Pew Global Attitudes Surveys in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011; European Values Surveys in 1990, 1999, and 2008; and Harris Interactive polls in 2006 and 2010. The discussion mostly centres on Britain, France, Germany, Spain, and the United States. A brief conclusion highlights some distinctive characteristics of French and American public opinion.

Counting blessings

The Church of England appears to be in research overdrive at the moment. Following the release on 16 January 2014 of key findings from its 18-month Church Growth Research Programme, two more studies were published last week. First, on 20 January, to coincide with ‘Blue Monday’ (often considered as the most depressing day of the entire year), the Church issued a press release encouraging people to ‘count your blessings’, informed by new YouGov online polling which the Church had commissioned among 2,084 Britons on 10-13 January. The survey revealed that only one in ten adults never ‘count their blessings’, in the sense of feeling grateful or lucky when reviewing their life situation, while a majority (51%) count them at least once a week, including 59% of women and the over-55s and 60% of the retired. Family and/or partner (53%) is deemed to be the single most important factor when counting blessings, followed by health (15%). No option was given to mention faith or religion as a blessing in its own right, nor to acknowledge that ‘blessings’ might have a supernatural origin, along the lines of Johnson Oatman’s famous hymn of 1897, which invited its hearers and singers to acknowledge ‘what the Lord hath done’. The Church’s press release, including a link to YouGov’s full data table, is at:,-says-cofe.aspx

Credit unions

Then, on 22 January 2014 the Church Urban Fund (CUF) published a preliminary research report on credit unions: Money Speaks Louder than Words: Credit Unions and the Role of the Church in Tackling Financial Exclusion. The Church has been advocating a greater role for credit unions to combat the social evils which are seen to stem from the rapid growth of the payday lending sector and is encouraging churchgoers to invest some of their savings in such unions. To test churchgoers’ experience of and attitudes to credit unions, the Church commissioned two pieces of research: a quantitative study of 385 churchgoers of all denominations aged 16-75 who worshipped at least once a year (among them 200 attending at least once a month), interviewed online by Ipsos MORI in December 2013; and six focus groups involving 54 regular Anglican churchgoers.

Among the Ipsos MORI panel past or present membership of credit unions by all churchgoers was found to be very low (5%), with only 22% feeling they knew a great deal or fair amount about such unions, and less than one-quarter willing to consider joining a credit union in future, even after they had been given a brief explanation of how the unions function. At the same time, 83% of churchgoers agreed that payday loans exploit those who cannot access other forms of credit, and around one-half that the Churches should engage with credit unions in some way. Overall conclusions drawn by CUF from the quantitative and qualitative research were that churchgoers: think there is a need to develop a more ethical financial system; are positive about credit unions in principle but have some concerns; and believe the Churches should help the credit union sector to grow. The report can be read at:

Religious gypsies

On 21 January 2014 the Office for National Statistics published a report on What does the 2011 Census Tell Us about the Characteristics of Gypsy or Irish Travellers in England and Wales? The 2011 census represented the first time that the ethnic group question had included a dedicated tick box for the white ethnic sub-group of gypsy or Irish traveller (which is recognized under the Equality Act 2010), and, in the event, 58,000 people identified themselves as such in the census (albeit this figure is lower than previous estimates). The report itself makes only a couple of brief references to the religious affiliation of the gypsy or Irish traveller community, but fortunately the detail can be calculated from Table DC2201EW, showing ethnic group by religion, which has been available for some time.

Summary data (in percentages) are presented in the table below, from which it will be seen that the proportion of Christians among gypsies and Irish travellers was much the same as in the white population overall, but that 4.6% less professed no religion and 2.4% more declined to answer the question. The lower figure for ‘nones’ is especially interesting in that the median age of gypsies and Irish travellers in 2011 was 13 years less than in England and Wales (26 versus 39), and that ‘nones’ generally tend to be concentrated among younger cohorts. The predominance of Christians is unsurprising. Historically, there were quite close links between gypsies and Christian evangelism in Britain, explored in a 2003 book by David Lazell, with Gypsy Smith one of the most famous revivalists of the early twentieth century.


Gypsy or Irish Traveller

All white people

All persons

























Other religion




No religion




Not stated






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