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16 July 2017

Press release

Calling views extremist is extremely unhelpful

Polling shows that talking about extremism is a recipe for chaos.

More than half of the public (54%) think using the word 'extreme' is not helpful in social and political discussion. 

That's according to new research from ComRes, commissioned by the Evangelical Alliance and a coalition of organisations, which is believed to be the first nationwide representative poll on extremism. Fifty-four per cent of the public said extreme was not a helpful description when discussing political or social opinions, while less than a third (32%) thought it was.

Dr David Landrum, director of advocacy for the Evangelical Alliance, commented: "The language of extremism is a recipe for chaos and division. This poll shows the scale of moral confusion in our society with the public having no way of deciding whether something is extreme or not. It also shows the division that might ensue if the government persist in trying to use extremism as a way of regulating peaceful ideas in society. 

"Detached from terrorism and incitement to violence, extremism does not work as a litmus test for judging peaceful beliefs and opinions. Indeed, the government have tried and failed over the last two years to define extremism with any precision and this poll shows that the public share that confusion."

Peculiar findings in the polling demonstrate the difficulty in using the term 'extreme' to define peaceful ideas and opinions. Nearly four in 10 (39%) consider it extreme to believe that climate change is an important global problem made worse by human behaviours, and almost half the public (48%) think it is not extreme to believe animals have the same rights as humans.

Statements around live political debates were also considered by many as extreme. 

The survey found that people appear to be divided and confused as to whether leaving the EU is an extreme idea or not. Three out of 10 (30%) thought it was extreme to believe the UK should remain in the EU, whereas 36 per cent said it was extreme to believe the UK should leave.

Dr Landrum went on to say: "Ideas which I would expect to be uncontested – such as paying women the same as men – were classed by many as extreme. The willingness to classify political views which should be respected, such as leaving or staying in the EU, as 'extreme', shows the danger of focusing the extremism debate on beliefs we may find uncomfortable or disagree with, rather than on actions that threaten lives."

The Evangelical Alliance and the other groups who commissioned the poll are calling for the government to approach this topic with 'extreme caution', and to ensure that the widest possible range of groups, including those of faith, are involved in any future extremism commission that may be established. 

Dr Landrum concluded by saying: "The government have failed to define extremism, and the public are clearly divided about which ideas are extremist. It therefore seems unlikely that a newly established quango, such as an extremism commission, will solve such problems. It is not wise to foster a society where volatile public opinion can be used to determine what might be extreme or acceptable views." 


Media Enquiries

Danny Webster
Tel: 07766 444 650
Email: info@eauk.org

Notes to Editors

  1. The polling was conducted by ComRes who interviewed 2,004 adults online between 7-9 July 2017. Full data tables will be available from ComRes from Sunday 16 July, or on request.
  2. Dr David Landrum is available for interview.
  3. The polling was commissioned by the Evangelical Alliance in conjunction with ADF International, Affinity, Care, Christian Concern, Christian Medical Fellowship and the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship.
  4. Appearing before the Home Affairs select committee on 29 June 2016 Karen Bradley MP offered ten different responses when asked to define extremism: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/joint-select/human-rights-committee/news-parliament-2015/counter-extremism-evidence-16-17/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YokYvURYvXY
  5. The poll asked: "Do you consider the word 'extreme' is a helpful description when discussing political or social opinions?" 32% answered 'yes', 54% 'no', and 14% said 'don't know'.
  6. The poll also asked: "In your opinion, is it extreme to believe that…" followed by a series of statements. The table below shows the percentage of the public which answered 'yes'.
Austerity measures support a strong economy 29%
Fracking should be prevented because of its impact on the environment 29%
The UK should remain in the EU 30%
Teaching your child at home is a fundamental human right 33%
The NHS should be privatised 34%
The UK should leave the EU 36%
Fox hunting should be legalised 38%
Climate change is an important global problem made worse by human behaviours 39%
Children should not be vaccinated 40%
All diesel cars should be banned 40%
Marriage should only be between a man and a woman 41%
Women should be paid equally to men for doing the same job 41%
The monarchy should be abolished 42%
Animals have the same rights as human beings 43%
Mothers should always stay home to look after children instead of doing paid work 47%
Children should not be assigned a gender at birth 49%

The Evangelical Alliance
We are the largest and oldest body representing the UK's two million evangelical Christians. For more than 165 years, we have been bringing Christians together and helping them listen to, and be heard by, the government, media and society. We're here to connect people for a shared mission, whether it's celebrating the Bible, making a difference in our communities or lobbying the government for a better society. From Skye to Southampton, from Coleraine to Cardiff, we work across 79 denominations, 3,500 churches, 750 organisations and thousands of individual members. And we're not just uniting Christians within the UK - we are a founding member of the World Evangelical Alliance, a global network of more than 600 million evangelical Christians. For more information, go to www.eauk.org.