Beyond Left and Right: Finding Consensus on Economic Inequality
In this report, we contend that theology can open up new avenues of consensus between political and social positions on issues of inequality. (2021)
The belief or not in God of party leaders has attracted some media attention in recent months. Ed Miliband describes himself as a “Jewish atheist”, Nick Clegg recently clarified that he considers himself an agnostic, while Anglican David Cameron, quoting Boris Johnson, once described his own religious faith as “a bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes”.
Cameron’s faith may be similar to many in the Church of England. Among self-defining Anglicans as a whole, 33% are classed as ‘Non-Churchgoing Doubters’ in research done by Professor Linda Woodhead in 2013 (though only 15% of this group are clear atheists).
Among those who self-define as belonging to a particular religious group, are there any differences in party allegiance between those who say they believe in ‘God’ and those who do give a different response (for example, say they are atheists, agnostics, or believers in a ‘higher power’)?
The graph shows how respondents to a 2013 Westminster Faith Debates/YouGov survey said they would vote if an election was held the next day, categorised by their religious affiliation and belief or not in ‘God’.
Belief or not in God made little difference in party support among Anglicans. Conservative support was almost equal between the groups. 40% of believers would have voted Labour compared to 34% of those who did not believe in God. ‘Other’ parties also gained more support from those who didn’t believe.
But among Catholics and Nonconformists, those who believed in God were more likely to support the Conservatives than those who did not – 33% to 21% in the Catholic case, and 40% to 17% in the Nonconformist case.
Nonconformists who didn’t believe in God were much more likely to support the Lib Dems than believers – 27% to 9%. Indeed, for all religious groups except Anglicans, Liberal Democrat support was higher among those who did not believe in God than among those who did.
The Conservative-believer association was reversed among respondents from non-Christian faiths. Those who believed in God were less likely to support the Tories (26%) than those who did not (36%).
The most striking differences in party support were among Presbyterians. Support for ‘other’ parties (most likely the SNP) was far higher among those who believed in God than those who did not – 56% to 19%. Conservative support was correspondingly lower among believers.
(N.B. Respondents who selected ‘other’ or ‘prefer not to say’ when asked their religious affiliation are omitted here for clarity. Individual traditions within the 'Nonconformist' and 'Non-Christian religion' categories are grouped together due to small sample sizes).
Data source: Westminster Faith Debates/YouGov survey, January 2013. The survey consisted of 4,437 adults. Weighted data. See http://faithdebates.org.uk/
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Theos researches and investigates the intersection of religion, politics and society in the contemporary world.