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25 February 2015

Faith in politics?

So what did we find? 

Disillusioned with politics 

Like much of the general population, many evangelicals are disillusioned with UK politics. Only six per cent – less than one in 10 – think politicians can be trusted to keep manifesto promises. Half say they are less likely to believe what a politician says than they were five years ago, and six in 10 say they've become less trusting of the government. One respondent commented that: "There is a huge loss of trust and respect for political leaders, which needs to be regained for our system to work". The government's introduction of same-sex marriage was one issue particularly mentioned as a cause for distrust. Only a quarter think the secular political system is fair to Christians and the majority believe that none of the major parties support Christian values. One respondent with particularly strong feelings wrote: "Party politics now seem devoid of any recognition of the importance of faith in God… the vital role of Christianity in shaping our political freedoms seems forgotten." 

Engaged in politics 

Yet, despite obvious disillusionment, evangelicals are not shying away from engaging in politics. Eight in 10 said they are certain to vote in the next general election – double that of the national population. Almost a quarter said they're more aware of how they can get involved in political issues than they were five years ago, and three in 10 say they are very interested in politics, with another 56 per cent fairly interested. We've found that evangelicals are a lot more engaged in political activity than the average person, with 78 per cent having signed an e-petition last year, compared to nine per cent of the general population, 57 per cent having contacted a local councillor or parliamentarian, compared with eight per cent, and 28 per cent having taken an active part in a campaign, compared to just two per cent. A substantial four per cent also said they have served as an MP or local councillor. The wide range of political activity evangelicals are involved in includes party membership, campaigning for asylum seekers and hosting prayer meetings for the local MP.

Politics and the pulpit 

A third have been explicitly encouraged by their church to vote, and another third to support or oppose a particular policy. In the last year churches are most likely to have talked about the issue of UK poverty, followed by marriage, international religious freedom/ persecution, international poverty and human trafficking. But more contentious issues such as Europe, tax justice and immigration appear to be avoided. And churches clearly steer away from being politically biased, with only two per cent saying their church has explicitly encouraged them to support or oppose a particular candidate. It seems many churches shy away from direct political engagement and campaigning, instead focusing on social needs. Six in 10 of our panel agreed that Christians are good at tackling the symptoms of social problems, but not the underlying issues, with one person describing the situation in their church: "My church encourages involvement in issues that I would describe as politically relevant – joining credit unions, increasing debt awareness and providing advocacy support, running a foodbank and homeless shelter. But the language of 'politics' is avoided. Actions encouraged tend towards practical alleviation of the symptoms of poverty, rather than engaging in campaigns over systemic causes." 

Issues evangelicals care about 

Interestingly, while the general population considered race/ immigration to be the most crucial issue in the UK today, selected by 21 cent, only six per cent of evangelicals thought this was the UK's key concern. Evangelicals instead considered poverty/inequality to be the most important issue facing the UK today. The key issues that are of concern to evangelicals and will affect their vote are religious liberty and freedom of expression, poverty alleviation, human trafficking, same-sex marriage and euthanasia. Turn to page 22 to see the party's views on these key issues. 

Who to vote for? 

We asked evangelicals how they decide who to vote for. Half said they pray about their vote, but just one in 10 felt convinced that God had led them to vote in a particular way. It's clear that evangelicals prioritise the common good –when voting in a general election, their top consideration is whether the party helps others in need. Personal integrity is also very important, with evangelicals prioritising a candidate who's honourable and not corrupt, has strong convictions and sticks to them and has a good record as a local MP or councillor. A quarter – 24 per cent – are still undecided which way they will vote on 7 May. With only 55 per cent saying they're going to vote for the same party as they did in 2010, we've seen evidence of a shift away from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Discounting the undecideds, if there was a general election tomorrow, 31 per cent said they would vote Labour, 29 per cent Conservative, 12 per cent UKIP, 11 per cent Liberal Democrat, 11 per cent others and six per cent Green. 

An opportunity 

There's clearly recognition that we need to see more Christians willing to get involved in party politics and stand for election – 92 per cent agreed – and many told us that the Bible inspires them to engage in politics. One person shared: "Throughout his ministry, Jesus was highly involved in the politics of his day – he constantly interacted with, and thoroughly annoyed, the chief priests, Pharisees and teachers of the law – first century equivalent of MPs and councillors – by challenging them about the bad things they were doing and saying. He also lived a life demonstrating values of the kingdom of God." However others admitted struggling to practically connect their faith to politics. One said: "I have absolutely no idea what the Bible teaches or does not teach about politics." With only seven per cent having been explicitly encouraged by their church to get involved in party politics, this report can inspire us to consider creative ways our churches can encourage people to think through political issues and be salt and light in our local and national communities. 

Visit election2015.eauk.org to find out how you and your church can engage with the election. 
Visit thepublicleader.com to find out more about engaging in public life. 
Visit eauk.org/surveys to access the report Faith in politics? 

This research was carried out in partnership with MAF, Christians Against Poverty and Prospects.

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