A new Populus poll on religious and faith issues is being published in the Sun this week – links to the Sun die very quickly, so I can’t offer you a link.

70% of people told Populus they believed in God or some form of higher power. This is quite a high figure, probably because people were offered the option of some alternate sort of higher power. Most similar surveys have asked specifically if people believe in “God” and have shown lower levels of belief – in August 2003 60% of people told MORI they believed in God and in April 2000 62% told ORB they believed in God, that said, on the eve of the (not the actual) millenium MORI also found 70% of people saying they believed in God.

In contrast YouGov find far lower levels of belief – perhaps because they are self-completed and even in a relatively secular age people are unwilling to admit to a complete lack of faith – in December 2004 only 44% told YouGov they believed in God, compared to 35% who didn’t (the difference is partially down to don’t knows. Most of the other polls found about 10% of people who said don’t know. YouGov found double that).

Returning to the Populus/Sun poll, 53% of people said they believed in an afterlife, compared with 35% who disagreed. Again, this is broadly in line with other surveys. MORI’s 2003 survey found 47% of people believed in an afterlife, although the contrast with online polls is far less obvious here – 43% of people told YouGov in 2004 they believed in an afterlife.

44% of people told Populus they thought it was important for a political leader to have strong religious belief, 53% disagreed (for the record, Tony Blair is known to be a practicing Christian who regularly attends church, Michael Howard attends a Liberal Synagogue on the High Holy feast days – not that it matters anyway, since neither of them will be leader of their respective parties by the time of the next election).

62% of people said they considered it important that children were raised with a belief in God, 36% disagreed. 29% of people believe in the devil, 69% do not. 71% believe in the soul. 86% of people regarded adultery as sinful, 91% regarded stealing as sinful and 66% regarding lying as sinful.

Populus also asked several questions not directly connected to religion, but which can be regarded as moral issues. 66% of people supported voluntary euthanasia, compared to 26% against. 61% supported the death penalty for certain (unspecified) categories of murder, 35% were opposed and the Dulce et Decorum est question (though since it was a poll for the Sun, it obviously didn’t use the latin), 35% said they would willingly lay down their lives to fight for their country. This compares with 51% who would lay down their lives to fight for their beliefs, and 96% who would lay down their lives to protect their loved ones.

Finally, moving away from Christianity to more exotic beliefs, 67% of people say they have more faith in astrology than organised religion. It’s difficult to know what to make of that – is it a sign that people take astrology seriously, or a sign they don’t respect organised religion? Going back to MORI’s 2003 poll only 33% of people believed in astrology, suggesting it is more the latter.

43% of people believe they have contacted, or been contacted by the dead . 32% of people believe in karma – though this was heavily tilted by age – over 40% of under 65s believe in karma but only 14% of over 65s do. 34% of people believe in ghosts, 37% believe in “restless spirits”, 9% believe in magic. Interestingly there is quite a strong gender bias amongst “alternative” beliefs, in almost every case more women believe than do men. Equally, younger people are far more likely to believe in these sorts of concepts than the over 65s. To give an example, 40% of women think you can contact the dead, only 24% of men do. 44% of under-25s think you can, 16% of over 65s do.

Finally, 3% of people believe in vampires. If the poll is correct (and in most polls you do get a small proportion of people who give downright silly answers), that would equate to over a million people. Still, it could be worse, back in 1999 MORI found that 15% of over 18s believed in Santa Claus. Well, it was a week before Christmas, let’s just hope they were getting into the festive spirit!


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