Religious Voting Intentions and Other News


Religious voting intentions

Two large-scale online polls were released last week containing breaks of voting intentions by religious affiliation. There will naturally be heightened interest in these as we are now less than two months away from a general election.

The first survey was a cumulation of political polling conducted by Populus between 4 and 27 February 2015, involving interviews with 14,201 voters. Data tables (table 22 being the most relevant) can be found at:

The second survey was undertaken for Lord Ashcroft and involved interviews with 8,072 electors between 20 and 27 February 2015. Data tables (table 54 being the most relevant) can be found at:

Voting intentions from both polls for the four main parties only, i.e. excluding ‘minor’ parties and undecideds, are tabulated below. The most striking finding is that Muslims are more than twice as likely as the population as a whole to support Labour, which will partly be a function of their relatively deprived socio-economic status and thus of class-based voting. Other non-Christians are also disproportionately Labour supporters. However, although Labour was ahead in both polls, the Conservatives attracted the biggest single share of the Christian vote. People of no religion were significantly underrepresented among Conservatives, doubtless reflecting the concentration of ‘nones’ in the youngest age cohorts. In religious terms, UKIP had a fairly broad appeal, apart from to Muslims.

% across





















Other non-Christian





No religion





















Other non-Christian





No religion





Meanwhile, an online poll by YouGov for the British Youth Council, for which 1,175 young adults (aged 16-24) were interviewed on 20-26 February 2015, reported on current voting intentions both by religious affiliation and by self-assessed religiosity. Since more than twice as many respondents claimed to be non-religious as religious and to disavow any religion as to profess an affiliation, sub-groups were often too small to draw meaningful conclusions. However, those describing themselves as religious were somewhat more likely to favour either the Conservative or the Labour Party than were ‘nones’, the latter being more attracted to the smaller parties (especially nationalists and the Green Party). Data tables are available at:

Curative astrology?

Conservative MP David Tredinnick, who sits on the House of Commons health and science and technology committees, recently suggested that integrating astrology into medicine could ‘take huge pressure off doctors’, and predicted that reading the stars will ‘have a role to play in healthcare’. Despite otherwise being mostly supportive of alternative medicine (especially acupuncture, chiropractic, and osteopathy), the British public was found to be unsympathetic to Tredinnick’s reasoning in an online poll by YouGov among 1,638 adults on 25-26 February 2015. Four-fifths suggested that astrology was not effective at treating illnesses, no more than 6% in any demographic sub-group thinking it would be effective, and 84% opposed astrology being made available for free through the NHS. Data tables can be accessed via YouGov’s blog on the poll, published on 6 March, at:

Profile of Quakers

The most recent issue (Vol. 19, No. 1, September 2014) of Quaker Studies contains a very substantial article (pp. 7-136, mainly comprising appendices) by Jennifer May Hampton describing the principal findings of an important new survey of Quakers undertaken under the auspices of the Woodbrooke Quaker Studies Centre in 2013. The article, ‘British Quaker Survey: Examining Religious Beliefs and Practices in the Twenty-First Century’, is based on the author’s unpublished 2013 Lancaster University MSc statistics thesis of the same title. Data derived from a self-completion questionnaire answered by ‘a quasi-random’ sample of 649 adult members (70%) and attenders (29%) from 48 local meetings in Britain Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, a response rate of 79%. Besides demographics, topics covered included religious beliefs and practices and attitudes to moral issues. The article reproduces the full text of the questionnaire (appendix A) and results in (rather small) diagrammatic form (appendix B).

Some questions replicated those in broadly equivalent national Quaker surveys conducted in 1990 and 2003 (recorded in the BRIN source database), revealing quite substantial changes over time. Some of these were demographic, notably an ageing in the Quaker community (the number over 60 increasing from 37% in 1990 to 70% in 2013, when the mean age was 64 years) and a doubling in those educated to postgraduate degree level (from 17% to 32%). Other changes related to beliefs, such as the big declines in Quakers who believed in God (from 75% in 1990 to 58% in 2013) or self-identifying as Christian (from 52% to 37%). As many as 16% of these members and attenders did not even self-identify as Quakers. Among the 84% who did, latent class analysis enabled them to be categorized into ‘traditional’ Quakers (32%), non-theist Quakers (18%), and ‘liberal’ Quakers (50%). The article does not appear to be available online, but copies of the journal issue can be purchased for £10 from the Quaker Studies Research Association, Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, 1046 Bristol Road, Birmingham, B29 6LJ (cheques should be made payable to the Association).   

Revision to 2011 census data

On 26 February 2015 the Office for National Statistics (ONS) issued an amended spreadsheet for the results of the religion question in the 2011 census of population in England and Wales. This followed the detection of a data processing error whereby the number of usual residents in the ‘religion not stated’ category had been overestimated by a total of 62,000 for three local authorities in London (Camden, Islington, and Tower Hamlets). This number has now been redistributed to the stated religion categories, with important changes for the three local authorities concerned and some knock-on effects at national level (for example, an additional 24,900 Christians, 14,400 Muslims, and 18,100 people of no religion in England and Wales). To locate the spreadsheet, search the ONS website for ‘Religion correction factors’. 

Gallup Poll religion data

Sample surveys are a vital source of religious statistics. They were pioneered in Britain by the Gallup Poll, formerly known as the British Institute of Public Opinion, which was founded by Henry Durant in 1937. Over the years, Gallup developed quite a strong interest in investigating religion, especially during Gordon Heald’s service with the company as director (1969-80) and managing director (1980-94). Topline time series of Gallup’s principal published (and some unpublished) data on religion and the paranormal between 1939 and 1999 have now been collated for the first time by Clive Field in a new 64-page BRIN working paper: Religion in Great Britain, 1939-99: A Compendium of Gallup Poll Data. It includes 111 thematically-arranged tables, together with a subject index. The introduction also provides a brief account of the history and methods of the Gallup Poll and of its publications and archives. The working paper can be found at:

Religion in the ‘long’ 1950s

Historians and sociologists continue to debate the nature, causation, and chronology of secularization in Britain. Latterly, there has been increased scholarly attention on what happened immediately after the Second World War, not least in view of Callum Brown’s claims that the late 1940s and early 1950s in Britain were a period of religious resurgence prior to the onset of revolutionary secularization in the 1960s. In a new book, these claims are substantially rejected by Clive Field on the basis of the first systematic analysis of a balanced portfolio of quantitative performance measures, published and unpublished, for all faith traditions. They subsume the three dimensions of belonging, behaving, and believing – the typology increasingly applied to the study of religiosity. Field concludes that the long 1950s accord better with a gradualist interpretation of religious decline in modern Britain. An up-to-date historiographical and bibliographical review is also offered. His Britain’s Last Religious Revival? Quantifying Belonging, Behaving, and Believing in the Long 1950s is published by Palgrave Macmillan (xii + 140pp., ISBN 9781137512529, £45.00 hardback, also available in PDF and EPUB formats) and can be ordered via online sites such as Amazon or from the publisher at:’s-last-religious-revival-clive-d-field/?sf1=barcode&st1=9781137512529

Religion in the ‘long’ 1980s

Another key decade in Britain’s secularization history, the 1980s, dominated by the premiership of Margaret Thatcher between 1979 and 1990, is examined in a second recent book: Eliza Filby, God & Mrs Thatcher: The Battle for Britain’s Soul (Biteback Publishing, 2015, xxiii + 407pp., ISBN 9781849547857, £25.00 hardback). Filby focuses on the interrelationship of religion and politics in post-war Britain, with reference both to the politicization of Christianity and the Christianization of politics. The story is exemplified in the life and career of Thatcher, whom she describes as the country’s ‘most religious prime minister since William Gladstone’, and who is perhaps now best remembered religiously for the confrontations between the Conservative Party and the Church of England, the former lurching to the political right in Thatcher’s day and the latter seemingly shifting leftwards.

The origins and nature of Thatcher’s ‘theology’ are expounded. Paradoxically, Filby contends, Thatcher’s attempts to imbue the nation with the religious and moral values learned in her own Methodist childhood ended in failure. ‘It was not the sexual revolution of the 1960s … which ultimately undermined the Christian fabric of Britain, but the changes, struggles and upheavals of the 1980s … Margaret Thatcher’s time in office may have heralded a renaissance of individual freedom, but in doing so also hastened the death of Christian Britain … In her crusade to raise Albion from the ashes, Thatcher ended up destroying all that was familiar. The future was not to be conservative but consumerist, not English, but cosmopolitan, not Christian, but secular.’

This is an interesting argument but, despite the wide range of primary sources which are mined (including manuscripts, interviews, and memoirs), the thesis is not entirely substantiated, partly because criteria for measuring and evaluating ‘secularization’ are never properly articulated and operationalized. While Filby sensibly rejects the level of churchgoing as a complete indicator of the spiritual health of the country, viable alternatives are not really explicitly proposed. Minimal use is made of statistical sources, not even the contemporary sample surveys which could so profitably have illuminated the intersection of religion and politics at grass-roots level. Indeed, for all its readability and erudition, Filby’s portrait of the ‘soul’ of Britain in the 1980s is essentially a top-down one, more a study of politico-religious ideas than of religion and society.  


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