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How Religion Will Influence the 2024 UK General Election

How Religion Will Influence the 2024 UK General Election

With Rishi Sunak announcing the date for the UK General Election, Paul Bickley breaks down the highlights from our recent Religion Counts reports. 23/05/2024

This is the fourth General Election in nine years, though at least this Parliament has nearly lasted its full duration (albeit with three Prime Ministers). Reminds me of good old Brenda from Bristol: “You’re joking. Not another one? Honestly, I can’t stand this. There’s too much politics going on at the moment…” 

But, whatever we think of the manner in which the election was called, I suspect that quite a lot of people will feel it is time for another one. A lot has happened in the last 4 and a half years – this feels like a good time to ask the public to give a steer. Not that there’s a great deal of optimism about the future. 

Most commentators, of course, think the General Election is a foregone conclusion. But will the ‘religious vote’ matter in the 2024 General Election? Our research suggests that it will, though the effects are hard to predict. We have been busy analysing the British Election Study to understand religious voting patterns, and here are some of the highlights. 

Labour and the religious vote 

First, even if Labour do have the election in the bag, they may struggle amongst various religious communities. As a group, Anglicans still lean strongly towards the Conservatives. The formerly solid link between Roman Catholics and Labour has evaporated, with Roman Catholics, as a group, merely tracking national trends. The historic non–conformist churches that had such an affinity with Labour are now numerically very small. And of course, the much commented on Muslim–Labour vote has come into question recently – and a worry for the Labour Party will be that this could affect the outcome in some seats. 

Happily, British politics doesn’t generally indulge in sectarian electioneering. But any incoming Labour government has some thinking to do when it comes to their relationship with these significant civil society institutions. If Labour is to do well and achieve its ambition of national renewal, it will need to engage positively with faith groups, which play a vital role in local communities. 

The cultural Christian vs practising Christian votes 

Second, there is a very strong effect from religious practice in all religious groups, and particularly amongst Christian groups. Many would think that more religious = more conservative, or even more capital–C Conservative. They’d be wrong. Surprisingly enough, religious practice tends to lead people to the centre and left of the political spectrum. In other words, cultural Christianity and practising Christianity vote differently. To indulge in a foolish prediction, might it be that as cultural/nominal Christianity fades, the balance of the Christian vote will shift away from the Conservative movement and party? All the more reason for Labour to cultivate a deeper and lasting relationship with faith communities, and practising Christians in particular. 

Helping democracy thrive 

Third, religion overall but Christianity in particular, at least in this data, is a massively pro–citizenship factor. Christians are more likely to vote (and that likelihood increases with religious practice). Amongst all religious groups, especially versus the nones, Christians are more socially trusting and more politically trusting. They have a far higher feeling of ‘political efficacy’. 

For the avoidance of doubt, again, I’m not suggesting any politician court a religious vote, nor that there’s a magical religious effect that makes people better citizens. I think what we see in the data is that regular association is extremely beneficial for a democracy. In what will be a febrile and no doubt polarising campaign, it’s worth remembering that politics isn’t best represented by six weeks of frenetic scrambling for votes, but about the habits of hope and action that take hold where people work together for a better common home. That’s something worth putting some faith in.

On Theos’ ‘Religion Counts’ series

This blog is part of a larger body of work including briefing papers and articles exploring the impact of religion on voting patterns in the UK.

The first briefing paper: Do the religious vote? which examines whether voters from different religions backgrounds are more or less likely to vote.

The second briefing paper: Who do the religious vote for? looks at data on party preference – which parties are people from various religious backgrounds likely to vote for?

Learn more about our Religion Counts work here.

Could you help uncover the impact faith can make in this election year by giving to our Religion Counts election appeal?

Image by I T S on Shutterstock

Paul Bickley

Paul Bickley

Paul is Head of Political Engagement at Theos. His background is in Parliament and public affairs, and he holds an MLitt from the University of St Andrews’ School of Divinity.

Watch, listen to or read more from Paul Bickley

Posted 23 May 2024

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