The Catholic Vote

‘Labour would be returned for an historic fourth consecutive term with a very large majority if it were just Catholics voting at the general election on Thursday, as Labour holds a huge lead of 19 points over the Tories among Catholics.’

So writes Sir Robert Worcester, founder of MORI, in his article ‘Does your Cross Count?’ in The Tablet, the Roman Catholic weekly, for 1 May (only available online to subscribers).

His findings are based on an aggregation of Ipsos MORI’s four monthly political polls in January-April 2010. Data relate to 2,673 British adults aged 18 and over (including 322 self-identifying Roman Catholics) who said they were certain to vote.

The Labour share of the vote in these polls stood at 43% for Catholics, compared with 30% for the electorate as a whole. Conservative figures were 24% and 36% respectively, and for the Liberal Democrats 24% and 23%.

Catholic voting behaviour is also revealed as different from other (non-Catholic) professing Christians. The latter are 20% more likely to support the Conservatives than Roman Catholics and 18% less likely to vote Labour. The Liberal Democrats have a 4% lead among Catholics relative to other Christians.

As Worcester comments: ‘it is clear that a “Christian bloc vote” is non-existent – Catholics do not hold the same voting intention as other Christians’.

The Catholic bias towards Labour is of long standing, largely related to the Roman Catholic Church’s historical success in retaining the allegiance (at least nominally) of those elements of the working classes who were cradle Catholics. 

Some of the evidence for this can be found on the Ipsos MORI website where there are comparative data on voting by religion in the run-up to the general elections of 1992, 1997, 2001 and 2005. See:

These tables show that, at 43%, the Catholic Labour vote in 2010 has fallen from 53% in 2005 (the same proportion as at the 1997 general election) and 60% in 2001. In 2005 Roman Catholic support for Labour was 30% higher than among non-Catholic Christians, whereas in 2010 the gap is reduced to 18%.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have gained to a limited extent from the Catholic swing against Labour since 2005; indeed, the Catholic swing to the Tories is marginally above that in the overall electorate. However, the main change since 2005 is an increase in the number of Catholics intending to vote for other parties (2% in 2005 and 9% today).

Of course, the fieldwork for the 2010 polls has been spread over rather a long period. In particular, it may not fully reflect the electoral impact, especially for the Liberal Democrats, of the televised debates between the leaders of the main political parties.

It is also the case that the Catholic sub-sample in these surveys is relatively small. Likewise, no account is taken of the significant lapsation from Catholicism. Many of these professing Catholics will be quite nominal in their adherence to the faith. Ideally, such surveys should control for frequency of mass attendance.

Worcester’s article further reports the outcome of recent Ipsos MORI polling for Reuters in Labour-held marginal constituencies. Here the Conservatives trail Labour by a massive 28% among Catholics, whereas they have a lead of 6% among non-Catholic Christians.

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