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Churchgoers ‘significantly more likely’ to vote centre or left, poll finds

01 July 2024

And Welby warns against ‘personalised abuse’ of party candidates in election run-up

Alamy

Party candidates take part in a General Election hustings at St John’s Methodist Church, Hereford, last week, chaired by Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Richard Jackson

Party candidates take part in a General Election hustings at St John’s Methodist Church, Hereford, last week, chaired by Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Richard Jackson

CHURCHGOERS in England and Wales are significantly more likely than the general population to vote for centrist or left-wing parties at the General Election on Thursday, new polling from the Bible Society suggests.

A survey of 1214 “active” Christians — people who attend church at least once a month — was carried out during the first two weeks of June, and published on Friday. Respondents were pooled from the Bible Society’s Resonate panel of about 5000 churchgoing Christians.

Of all respondents, 70 per cent said that they intended to vote for left-wing or centre-left parties: 40 per cent Labour, 23 per cent Liberal Democrat, and seven per cent Green.

A YouGov survey of 2144 UK adults, conducted on 3 and 4 June, put the voting intentions for the general population at 57 per cent for these parties: 40 per cent Labour, 10 per cent Liberal Democrat, and seven per cent Green.

Older churchgoers were also more likely to vote Labour and Liberal Democrat than the general population. Among churchgoers aged 65-plus, 39 per cent said that they would vote Labour, compared with 22 per cent of the general population of this age group polled by YouGov.

Almost one quarter of churchgoers in this group (23 per cent) intended to vote for the Liberal Democrats, compared with nine per cent in the YouGov survey. Older churchgoers were just as likely to vote Conservative (24 per cent), compared with 32 per cent in the YouGov survey. Just seven per cent of older churchgoers intended to vote Reform, against 26 per cent among older people generally.

Green Party figures were roughly similar, at six and five per cent respectively.

The Bible Society poll also found that priests were far more likely to vote for parties on the left or centre-left: 50 per cent intended to vote Labour, 18 per cent Liberal Democrat, and ten per cent Green. Just 15 per cent intended to vote Conservative; six per cent Reform.

The poll also broke responses down by denomination. It found that the Conservative vote had declined among Anglican churchgoers. Just 20 per cent intend to vote Tory, compared with the 38 per cent who intended to vote Conservative in 2019 (when 44 per cent of the general population voted for the party).

Dr Rob Barward-Symmons, who conducted the research, said that the results were “bucking some old stereotypes — particularly that the Church of England is the ‘Conservative party at prayer’.

“While, of course, faithful Christians are represented across all the major parties, when we dig into the reasons respondents gave, we found that social justice, compassion for all in society, and care for creation were regularly cited as biblical values they saw evidenced in the left and centre parties.

“We also saw that those who are more engaged with their local community through their church are more likely to vote for left and centre parties. Previous research from our partners at Theos has shown the political differences between practising and non-practising Christians, and this research further reinforces the need to recognise this crucial distinction.”

On Saturday, the Archbishop of Canterbury warned against the use of “personalised abuse” of party candidates in the final days before the election. He wrote on X: “In these last few days before the election, let us pray for all candidates taking part in this most essential act of democracy.

“Let us encourage courteous and kind debate and not use personalised abuse. Let us carefully consider issues and the common good, and above all vote.”

Also on Friday, in an article for the Yorkshire Post, the Archbishop of York encouraged the population to exercise their democratic right to vote, even where people felt disenfranchised, had other plans, or where “other challenges” such as caring responsibilities, illness, bereavement, or finances were taking priority.

“We can’t get away from the fact that it’s those who turn up who have a say in forming the next Government. Our electoral system is certainly not perfect, but it is still true that participation is required to have an impact.

“It would be a sad and dysfunctional day for politics if deciding who our next Government is, is done only by those whose lives have improved since the last election. Democracy would be undermined if only those who feel their vote is powerful and influential turned out to vote. It would be a failure of our system if only those who are not facing challenges or who aren’t busy on polling day turn up.”

Pointing to the Church of England’s campaign Pray your Part (News, 24 May), he continued: “We need everyone’s voice and we need everyone to vote. . . Decisions are made by those who show up. Democracy requires participation. So, set your alarm, put a reminder on your phone, tie a knot in your handkerchief, and remind your friends and family. But, most of all, turn up. Have your say. And cast your vote on Thursday.”

The acting Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Jackie Searle, agreed that the population should be reminded of the “privilege” of democracy, and the legacy of suffrage.

“People say that politics and religion don’t mix, but, for me, they are completely inseparable. Jesus demonstrated that in his care for people, in how he both challenged structures, and showed what it is to really love and care for one another.

“So, for me, politics really is about how we organise ourselves as a country. It’s about the things that we value. And I think, with a parish church at the heart of pretty much every community, Christians have so much to say in this arena, with on-the-ground experience of what is going to benefit the whole community and the country.”

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