2016: Terry Eagleton, Distinguished Professor of English Literature at Lancaster University, delivers the ninth annual Theos lecture
Voting and Values in Britain: Does religion count?
25th January 2014
Ask someone their religion in America and you
can have a reasonable guess as to their politics.
Faith is not an infallible political guide in the
US, and there are signs that it may be becoming
more fallible, but it remains useful.
What about Britain? For too long, the precise
relationship between religious (and nonreligious)
commitment and political identity and
values in Britain has been under-researched, the
subject of claim, counter-claim and hyperbole.
Voting and Values in Britian seeks to rectify
that. Drawing on a decade’s worth of detailed
survey work, from the British Election Study and
British Social Attitudes surveys, as well as from
other sources, Ben Clements and Nick Spencer
examine the true relationship between religious
and political commitments in Britain.
The first two chapters look at the religious vote,
yesterday, today and tomorrow. Is there such
a thing? Do different denominations express
a meaningful preference for different parties
and, if so, which? Alternatively, is electoral
behaviour shaped more by the level of religious
commitment, such as the frequency of religious
attendance? Chapters 1 and 2 answer these
questions with reference to electoral survey
data from the 1970s to 2010 and beyond.
Chapters 3 to 5 move on to look at the political
values that underpin electoral loyalties. In the
US, ‘values voting’ has come to signify people’s
attitude to a relatively limited number of personal
‘moral’ issues. This is not the case in Britain, where
‘issues’ polling shows that religious and nonreligious
voters are thinking about broadly the
same issues when they vote.
What, then, of the bigger values, that underlie
all political commitments? Where do different
groups sit on the left-right political scale? Who is
more authoritarian and who is more libertarian,
and over which issues? Which groups favour a
more ‘welfarist’ approach to politics, and which a
Voting and Values in Britain examines these issues,
looking at what Anglicans, Roman Catholics,
other Christians, people from other religions,
and people of no religion think, and whether the
level of people’s religious commitment makes a
If, as many claim, class is declining as the
determining factor in electoral behaviour,
identities and values such as those analysed in
this report may play an ever greater role. Voting
and Values in Britain is a major contribution to
this issue and will help politicians, strategists,
journalists and all other interested parties get an
accurate and reliable idea about how far religious
and non-religious commitments count in 21st