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Tories lag behind Lib Dems in Times C of E clergy poll

06 September 2023

Respondents reveal voting intentions and attitudes to national ethical issues

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VOTING intentions are among the topics explored in the survey of clergy conducted by The Times — the results of which were released in full last week (News, 1 September).

Asked how they would vote if there were a General Election tomorrow, 36.1 per cent of respondents named Labour, with the Conservatives in fourth place (13.2 per cent), behind the Liberal Democrats and “Don’t know”.

A total of 5000 priests — selected at random from among those with English addresses in Crockford’s Clerical Directory — were approached, and responses were received from 1185 of them. They included retired clergy. The sample represents about six per cent of the serving clergy, who number about 20,000.

In the wake of criticism of the survey’s methodology, The Times has provided more detail about its approach. A report on Saturday said that it had “followed the same methodology used by YouGov and the University of Lancaster for the last survey of Church of England priests in 2014 and received a similar number of responses. The age and sex of our respondents tallied extremely closely with the overall breakdown for the church’s entire body of active priests.”

In 2014, Professor Linda Woodhead, now head of theology and religious studies at King’s College, London, commissioned a YouGov survey completed by 1590 Anglican clergy, to inform the Westminster Faith Debates (Comment, 31 October 2014).

Her conclusion was that “whereas the clergy are to the right of the population in ethics, they are to the left in politics.” Respondents were three times as likely as the general population to think that the welfare budget was too low and should be increased (44 per cent of clergy, 15 per cent of the population). Fewer than one third thought that the welfare system created a culture of dependency, compared with three-fifths of the population, and more than two-thirds of Anglicans.

The Times also asked about the 2016 referendum on membership of the EU, and found that 75.4 per cent of respondents had voted Remain, while 18.8 per cent had voted Leave. An exit poll of 3242 UK adults, commissioned by Professor Woodhead, immediately after the referendum, found that two-thirds (66 per cent) of the Anglicans who had cast a vote had voted to leave the EU.

Asked by The Times about the Government’s policy of deporting asylum-seekers to Rwanda, two-thirds (65.7 per cent) were opposed. The majority — 89.2 per cent — said that it was “appropriate” for the Archbishop of Canterbury to criticise government policies publicly, while 7.6 per cent said that it was “inappropriate”.

Forty per cent (41.1 per cent) said that the Church’s established status “should be reviewed, with some elements of establishment retained and some abolished”, while 43.3 per cent said that no changes should be made. A total of 11.6 per cent were in favour of disestablishment.

The survey included the question: “The government is proposing a ban on conversion therapy. Do you support or oppose such a ban?” Two-thirds (67.8 per cent) were for, and 17.7 per cent were against.

Clergy were also asked about proposals put forward in the House of Lords, by Baroness Meacher, to legalise assisted dying in cases where a person with an incurable disease had sought permission from two doctors and a High Court judge. Most respondents — 54.9 per cent — were opposed, and 35.5 per cent were in favour.

When asked about reform of the House of Lords, 44.8 per cent of respondents wanted to keep the 26 seats for the Lords Spiritual, but see them “opened up to other denominations and faith”, while 36.5 per cent said that they should remain unchanged. Reserving the seats for C of E bishops, but reducing them in number, was chosen by 8.6 per cent.

Clergy were also asked how confident they were that their own church could achieve net zero in carbon emissions by 2030. Almost two-thirds of respondents (65 per cent) said that they were not confident.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, the Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment, reminded The Times of the “detailed Net Zero Routemap”, which set out a “practical and pragmatic route” (News, 8 July 2022).

Asked about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s performance, 62 per cent of respondents said that he was doing “a good job”, while 34 per cent said that he was doing a “bad job”.

Asked how important it was to “consider how other churches across the global Anglican Communion might react” to changes in Church of England policy or doctrine, 76.7 per cent said that it was important, while 22.6 per cent said that it was not important.

The Times also asked about how confident respondents were “that the Church of England’s safeguarding system and policies are adequate”. More than one third — 36.9 per cent — lacked confidence.

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