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27 January 2014

Does religion count at the ballot box?

New research published by Theos examines the relationship between religious belief and voting behaviour. The Voters and Values report analysed surveys from 1959-2012 to show that how people identify their religious belief, as well as how frequently they attend services, is a significant factor in showing how they are likely to vote.

Anglicans are more likely to vote Conservative, and the more frequently they attend church, the more likely they are to vote that way. Catholic voters, however, favour the Labour party and in this case there is no discernible difference between those who attend and those who do not. Other Christian groups, the only further breakdown most of the statistics allowed, were more fluid in their voting habits, although they did show a noticeable association with support for the Liberal Democrats (and its predecessor parties).

Among other religious groups Muslims favoured Labour, Jewish voters preferred the Conservative, Hindus traditionally backed Labour but were more evenly split in 2010, as are Sikhs throughout the period investigated. The Buddhist vote was inclined to go to the Liberal Democrats.

Additional survey evidence, only available for 2005 and 2010, shows that minority ethnic groups strongly support the Labour party. For all groups in 2005 support was over 67 per cent, and aside from Hindus (dropping to 49 per cent) similar high levels were recorded in 2010. In 2005 87.8 per cent of Pentecostal Christians backed Labour with 80.8 per cent doing so in 2010.

The national trend of higher levels of support for the Conservative party is also reflected among women, evident among Anglicans and especially strong for Catholics with 33.3 per cent showing support compared to 24 per cent of men.

The voting behaviour observed is also reflected when broken down by age, for voters under 30 who identify as Anglican over 40 per cent voted Conservative with 25 per cent backing Labour; a significant number also supported the liberal democrats, however, with 29 per cent support this was lower than the national average of 37 per cent. Older Anglicans are most likely to support the Conservatives, and among Catholics those over 65 are also more likely to vote Conservative than Labour. The Catholic vote was less affected by age with support for Labour varying only between 36 per cent and 42 percent across all age groups. Non-conformist voters vary significantly by age, for younger voters almost half supported the Liberal Democrats, whereas a similarly large proportion of those over 65 supported the Conservatives.

Whether voters are in manual or non-manual jobs has a strong association with how voters cast their ballot, for Anglicans manual workers are evenly split between Labour and Conservatives and among Catholics non-manual workers close the gap but are still more likely to support Labour.

For religious voters the issues they thought were most important in the last General Election largely confer with the general population. For all groups the economy was most important, with immigration second, the election outcome third and the deficit fourth. Issues traditionally considered as of concern for Christians such as a lack of family values and moral were barely recorded for any group – a tiny but discernible number of non-conformist voters thought morals were an important issue.

The report goes on to look at attitudes towards issues among religious groups. It is among these findings that the difference between those who attend frequently and those who do not becomes noticeable. Anglicans as a whole group are most likely to support the death penalty but this is heavily affected by those who never attend, those who frequently do are much less likely to back it. Nominal religious groups are all classed as more authoritarian than those who attend services either frequently or infrequently.

For all religious groups those who frequently attend services are more likely to support the welfare state. They are consistently more likely to support the statement that 'the creation of the welfare state is one of Britain's proudest achievements', while non-attenders are much less likely to agree. Views on the collection of issues used to assess attitudes on welfarism were quite narrowly bunched together but frequent attenders, regardless of religious affiliation, were generally more likely to be supportive.