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Faith and voting

A new report from thinktank Theos has some interesting conclusions

A fascinating report, Voting and Values in Britain: Does religion count?, just published by Theos looks at voting by people of religious faith. It analyses voting and voting intentions by Christian denomination, and also for other religious faiths.
Voting and Values draws in particular on the British Election Survey and the British Social Attitudes survey.  Amongst its many findings, the report finds that Anglicans have been more likely to vote Conservative than Labour (other than in 1966 and 1997) and in 2010 were twice as likely to vote Conservative than Roman Catholics (all self-identifying).  It also finds that Anglicans have been more likely to vote Conservative if they were attended church services regularly.  Church service attendance was also a better indicator of left-right views than affiliation to a denomination or religion alone.
Of interest too is that the issues which drive religious voters are pretty much the same as drive other people. For example, the economy is top of the list and so-called family values issues are very low down the list (there is no Religious Right in the UK as there is in the US – see also Is there a Religious Right emerging in Britain?). There are some interesting nuggets – for example, Theos finds that “more religiously observant respondents were more likely to have a positive attitude to state welfare”. There is much to be digested in this report and it’s clear that other factors are driving voting intentions, factors which outweigh religious affiliation and attendance at religious services.
The report also needs to be read in the light of a Demos report in 2012; Faithful Citizens.  This study found that “Religious people are more likely than non-religious people to engage in volunteering in their local community, and to take decision-making roles in committees and through local leadership forums, such as being a councillor, school governor or magistrate.”  It also found that “those who belonged to a religious organisation in the UK were more likely to place themselves on the left side of the political spectrum, more likely to value equality over freedom, less likely to have a negative association towards living next door to immigrants [and] slightly more likely to say that those on benefits should have to take a job (rather than be able to refuse).”  Clearly there is some thinking through to be done on these various findings, which do not necessarily contradict. We also need to be clear that having an active faith is very different to belonging to a supporters’ club or special interest organisation. Faith permeates through our lives and the way we think about the world, even if we often come to the same or similar conclusions as our friends and neighbours on issues such as the economy or social justice.
What we do know, in Christians on the Left, is that there is a large proportion of Christians in this country who are actively pursuing causes that we would regard as progressive. These can range from running food banks to campaigning against global poverty and injustice. It is but a small step from this activity to being more active in politics, whether through supporting Christians in political parties, or getting involved in politics directly.  In Christians on the Left we see ourselves as a bridge between Christian social action, often addressing very real immediate needs, and political action, changing the system to prevent those needs occurring in the first place.  It’s why we’re holding The Summit next month to bring together Christians who are active in their local communities. We’ll be asking how faith motivates us and what that looks like in practice, and asking, ‘Are we too focused on social action to bring social justice?’
The challenge to political parties remains, to understand how faith works and engage seriously with churches and other faith groups, which are often the only volunteer groups active on the front line dealing with poverty and social exclusion.  There is a challenge too, to those of us who hold religious beliefs.  It is to reassess how we vote and how we engage with the political process, to be confident that, whatever party we support, our politics are consistent with our beliefs and that we are as engaged as we can be.

This article was first published by Christians on the Left, on 27 January 2014.


Christians on the Left, 26/01/2014

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