I return once again, with a heavy heart, to the issue of gay marriage. There is more rather one-eyed polling by the campaign against gay marriage, dutifully reported the Telegraph. The way polling commissioned by the lobby opposed to gay marriage is reported by the newspapers and those commissioning it is almost a masterclass in poor interpretation of polls.

Firstly we have the problems of polls conducting using agree/disagree statements, which risk bias in the direction of the statement asked (which I have written about at length here) and often give contradictory answers if properly balanced with statements in the other direction. For example, in this poll 62% of people agreed with the statement “marriage should continue to be definied as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman”. The campaign against gay marriage have consistently focused on this question and interpreted this as meaning that 62% of people are opposed to gay marriage. However, the same poll found people agreeing by 44% to 38% that “legalising gay marriage is important because maintaining the distinction between civil partnerships and marriage worsens public attitudes towards gay people”. One could just as easily cherry pick that question from the poll and claim that more people support than oppose gay marriage.

As I have written before, we have a multitude of polls that have actually asked directly whether or not people support the legalisation of gay marriage, and they should really be the starting point for anyone looking for polling evidence of whether people support or oppose gay marriage. I summarised the main polling on the issue earlier this month, but suffice to say, polling asking a straightforward question on whether people support or oppose gay marriage consistently finds more people support it than oppose it. Polls that offer more nuanced options, and ask if people support gay marriage, only civil partnerships, or neither gay marriage nor civil parterships, still consistently find support for gay marriage in the mid-40s, but normally find a substantial minority of people who support civil partnerships but not gay marriage, so sometimes show more people opposed to gay marriage than support it.

Secondly we have “would X make you more or less likely to vote for party Y” questions. Again, I have ranted about these at length before, but essentially it is a type of polling question which gives false prominence to and therefore greatly overstates the importance of specific policies when voting intention is actually driven by broad perceptions of parties, their competence, leaders, capability on major issues like the economy and so on.

Now we have that hoary old chestnut of a poll showing people want a referendum on gay marriage. As previously discussed, if asked in an opinion poll people want a referendum on almost everything – unsurprisingly, given that questions on referendums basically boil down to “would you like to have a say on this or should it be left to the hated politicians to decide”. It doesn’t mean there is some huge untapped demand for a referendum on that particular issue, people support a referendum on anything you ask about (the one exception I have managed to track down was a MORI poll back in 2001 that found people did not want a referendum on abolishing the monarchy)

Why do I keep coming back to this? I think its mostly the consistently credulous and one-sided reporting of polls on gay marriage in some sections of the press. Readers of some newspapers could be forgiven for thinking that the polling showed that the public were opposed to gay marriage, when any fair minded look at the broad range of polling on the issue would show that the balance of opinion is broadly positive towards it.


168 Responses to “So it comes to this, a poll on a gay marriage referendum. Sigh…”

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  1. THESHEEP

    I’m from Aberdeen – and there’s nothing in that list to stop me marrying your sister Ewe-phemia either! :-)

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  2. Anthony

    Your post made me think you were in favour of gay marriage, but we still have these Coalition For marriage (the campaign against gay marriage) adverts.

    Do you not have the power to determine the adverts appearing on your site?

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  3. The Sheep
    Well as we’re quoting religious documents, how about

    “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination…” Leviticus

    I know that it’s possible to find support for almost any argument in The Bible, but I can understand why religious people would find this issue very difficult. I wonder what the official Moslem position is, for instance (though I think i can guess).

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  4. MitM

    Just because AW might have a preference in the debate doesn’t mean he’s not willing to take advertising money off whomever is willing to provide it (and on a site like this they are likely to be political)

    If AW started only showing adverts from the Tories and banned Labour ads, his aim to create a non-partisan site would go out of the window.

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  5. If I can try to turn this into a more politically-oriented discussion:
    Over the last twenty or thirty years Labour has received the majority of support from immigrants. I don’t have figures to prove this, but the fact that they dominate seats in inner-city areas with high immigrant communities seems to point in this direction.

    Will there come a point where this support starts to fall away (perhaps towards Respect) because of the socially-conservative views of immigrant communities clashing with the socially-liberal attitudes of Labour?

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  6. Pete B

    I doubt it. I think respect are in favour of gay marriage as well. The immigrant communitys will continue to vote for Labour as Labour is the party best placed to help them both in terms of wealth redistribution, but also immigrants are very pro immigration (shocking I know!) and Labour is the party most in favour of mass immigration.

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  7. @Pete B – your assumption on ethnic political orientation contains one critical fault, I suspect. Your description of ‘socially conservative immigrant communities’ rather gives the game away.

    I suspect here a slightly uncertain approach to ‘immigrant communities’, which may be leading you to place anyone of a certain nationality/ethnic origin into a single box, marked ‘social conservatives’.

    ‘Immigrant communities’ are remarkably like ‘non immigrant communities’ in many ways, in that they contain a wide range of views that make simplistic categorizations more difficult. With immigration, this is exacerbated by the general tendency for assimilation over the generations and generational change in attitudes. Again, this is rather similar to ‘non immigrant communities’, where issues like gay marriage seem to be more acceptable to younger people.

    I think we need to be careful about simplistic assumptions based on race, be aware that what constitutes a ‘community’ can be very fuzzy, and accept that where we can see distinctions, these change over time in every community.

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  8. Blimey – just come to the site having been away for the day.

    Wot a right bundle of laughs from the last thread and this.

    Thanks to jay and crossbat11 for some sense.

    Mind you, I base most of my life on the sayings of ole Leviticus and that’s probably one of the main reasons I ended up marrying a woman – even though they are quite clearly clinically bonkers.

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  9. “marriage should continue to be defined as life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman”

    There are several possible meanings for this, which is why it makes such a bad question.

    My instinctive understanding is “Should a man and a woman who want to make a life-long exclusive commitment to each other continue to be allowed to marry?”

    A somewhat odd question to ask, but then polling questions are often odd and require some interpretation.

    The interpretation that C4M want to have for this question is implausible. The only form of marriage is not “life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman” at the moment, so it couldn’t possibly be talking about that as the only form of marriage. After all, we have divorce, and no law against adultery. Marriages that are not life-long already exist, as do marriages that are not exclusive. I’ve been to wedding ceremonies where vows were exchanged that gave explicit recognition to polyamorous relationships and to the impermanence of marriage.

    There have always been many forms of marriage. Confarreatio, coemptio, usus and sine manu were the four forms under Roman law, for example.

    The word “defined” is a tricky one – words have many definitions, and to say a word should “continue to be defined” in a particular way is just to say that this definition should not pass out of use, not to ask that another definition should not be added.

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  10. Reading Leviticus is a hoot, pages and pages of DON’T HAVE SEX WITH ANIMALS then pages of DON’T HAVE SEX WITH YOUR DAUGHTER and lots of other repeated examples of folk you shouldn’t have sex with, and almost as an afterthought one solitary quite relaxed (considering the rest of Leviticus) verse about sleeping with men. It would seem that the people of the old testament were really into their animals(pun not intended) and incest seems to have been a really big thing, in contrast homosexuality must have been rare. Unless of course they were just going on about the stuff that was most wrong and homosexuality only got one mention cos it really wasn’t a big deal, interesting that the other stuff it says stone the wrongdoers including sheep cows pigs hens………….but no mention of stoning gays, and who says god isn’t a caring type

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  11. RinN

    I can’t see why you couldn’t marry a hen – think of the free eggs for starters.

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  12. RiN

    Of course, it was OK for men to gang rape your daughters.

    Genesis 19:8

    “Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.”

    Women as property.

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  13. @ Billy Bob

    I agree, it had to be horrible, but this was the cannonic law. Used politically quite extensively after the 30-year war in mixed religion countries (he who owns the land dictates the religion). The eventual point was until the end of the 19th century that the offspring from such a marriage couldn’t inherit without the explicit declaration of the grandparent, because the marriage couldn’t be dissolved if the priest tied the hands (even if it was a Reformatic priest).

    Under Russian orthodox law marrying a woman without her father’s permission was a criminal act irrespective to her age.

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  14. LASZLO

    I presume you are referring to Canon Law as it was redefined by the Council of Trent in 1563?

    Since the Reformation in Scotland took place in 1560, the Kirk here stuck to the older rules. It wasn’t till 1940 that Scots Civil Law (other than permitting divorce and remarriage and reducing the levels of consanguinity) required marriages to be officially recorded.

    Consequently, all children of the marriage were entitled to an equal share of the moveable estate.

    (And yes, I had to look up the details! :-) )

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  15. @ MitM

    Was that serious? Or joking?
    —————
    The bit about each partner bringing their solicitor etc was a joke.
    I find the entire concept of marriage a bit baffling to be honest.
    8-)

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  16. YouGov for Sunday Times has;

    CON 33%…..LAB 44%…..LD 9%….. UKIP 8%.

    A bit shocked that the Sunday Times hasn’t got Labour down to the 4 that I was half expecting for their weekend poll ;)

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  17. Who killed JR ? :-)

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  18. Ken

    Since Hagman supported the Peace & Freedom Party, and hosted fundraisers for the Black Panthers, I’d guess – the CIA?

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  19. Surely if we had offered a referendum on the police commisioners before they came into force people would have said no thank you.

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  20. OLD NAT
    “After all the term “adultery” originated in adulteration of the man’s property rights in his children.”
    Isn’t this to confuse jus in rem with jus in personam? I mean this as a valid and necessary distinction in the function of marriage which, in respect of rights “to” women and children in an agnatic lineage system would also, for example, include the rights of the affines (in-laws) to a enAfter all the term “adultery” originated in adulteration of the man’s property rights in his children. among, say the Kenyan Kalenjin or Marsai, are similar and also entail rights related to descent, but are different because they have moral dimensions different from those of property rights in cattle.

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  21. @ Gracie

    Thanks for finding the YG so quickly. 44% is a high score for Labour; no sign that Ed’s pro-EU speech to the CBI has caused any consternation amongst Labour supporters.
    8-)

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  22. Sorry: my computer acting up, and annoyed woman on phone interrupting submission:
    To repeat and clarify (?)

    Isn’t this to confuse jus in rem with jus in personam? I mean this as a valid and necessary distinction in the function of marriage which, in respect of rights “to” women and children in an agnatic lineage system would also, for example, include the rights of the affines (in-laws) to a enable them to exert a protective role, also part of the marriage (as are other aspects of their continuing rights and obligations to her and the children: e.g. among, say the Kenyan Kalenjin or Marsai, rights to the brideprice catle which formed part of the marriage are similar and also entail rights related to descent, but thiose to to the wife and children are different because have moral dimensions different from those of property rights in cattle. I don’t know but suspect these functional linkages with rigfhts and obligations of affines towards the wife and children are still present in the attitude towards marriage and may be more so in a “traditional” English and Scoittish marrikage in church, and in part answer the implicit question in Amber’ssolicitor blog; what in the name of goodness are all these other people doing at the wedding?

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  23. “Why do I keep coming back to this? I think its mostly the consistently credulous and one-sided reporting of polls on gay marriage in some sections of the press. Readers of some newspapers could be forgiven for thinking that the polling showed that the public were opposed to gay marriage, when any fair minded look at the broad range of polling on the issue would show that the balance of opinion is broadly positive towards it.”

    I think because, as with most polls, the media doesn’t really understand them and they will misreport accordingly. I think that you’ve summed up the polling accurately. I think that what you have to have is an either or question on the issue of marriage. If you open it up to multiple options, you dilute how people feel and you don’t get an accurate picture of public opinion.

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  24. @ Old Nat

    “Since Hagman supported the Peace & Freedom Party, and hosted fundraisers for the Black Panthers, I’d guess – the CIA?”

    You know the Peace and Freedom Party is still around? I think they nominated Roseanne Barr for President (her running mate was Cindy Sheehan). I don’t know what they actually stand for but frequently see them on my ballot and don’t know what to make of them. I think of them as the American equivalent to the Monster Raving Loonies Party.

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  25. AMBER
    Also ref your bafflement as to marriage, Mater semper certa est (“The mother is always certain”) in Roman law “pater est, quem nuptiae demonstrant” (Wiki0, the latter determination of in personam rights and obligations is seen as basic to social structure in patrilineal social systems, esp. in pastoral or once pastoral systems. This is not unrelated to the rather bitter discussion of parents rights in fostering in the previous thread; we probably have more than the ghost of our pastoral ancestry built into marriage as a social institution.

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  26. @ Allan Christie

    “Although I do have a gay friend who is opposed to gay marriage and gays being able to adopt children (not because they might support UKIP) <<<I had to get that bit in but becasue of the stigma it could cause to children in School etc."

    I find that strange. But I suppose there must be someone who thinks that way.

    @ Old Nat

    "While there are obvious downsides (as there are with wholly representative democracy), there is an attraction in introducing direct democracy.

    If people, when polled, regularly prefer the idea of deciding major issues by referendums, rather than allowing “hated politicians” to take the decisions, it would seem only democratic to accede to such a clear popular preference."

    There is a major attraction. Voters can do the following:

    1. Create all sorts of new government spending programs.
    2. Cut their own taxes.
    3. Bond themselves into debt.
    4. Create all sorts of burdensome regulations on business.
    5. Require a budget to be made in a special way where there is no flexibility and certain funds must be allocated no matter what.
    6. Create all sorts of laws that render the government inefficient and help create constant chaos.

    (And most importantly):

    7. Blame those "hated politicians" for the ensuing mess that is created as a result of enacting 1-6 concurrently. :) :)

    I suppose though since direct democracy is what the people want, I guess it's a philosophical struggle I must engage in.

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  27. @ John Pilgrim

    Thank you, I always find your comments really interesting. They invariably set me thinking about things in a way that I had not considered before.
    8-)

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  28. Anthony: You have a way with world weary that’s entirely winning…

    Thanks for a well argued piece of analysis. It’s a real pleasure to read tonight even from the snowy steps of Cleveland Ohio – John

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  29. Yougov/sunday times
    Con33 Lab 44 LD 9 UKIP 8
    :-)

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  30. Con 33, Lab 44, Lib 9, UKIP 8
    Approval -32

    CoE VI:
    Con 45, Lab 36, Lib 7, UKIP 9

    Leader approval:
    Cameron: -18 (-1)
    Miliband: -20 (+1)
    Clegg: -54 (+1)

    Leader approval CoE:
    Cameron: -3
    Miliband: -26
    Clegg: -55

    Pure Approval:
    Cameron 38
    Miliband 34
    Clegg 19

    Growth policies:
    Would cutting taxes for businesses and high earners help the economy grow?
    Would help – 24
    Would damage – 25
    No difference – 36

    In the longer term, would cutting taxes increase revenues?
    Increase – 25
    Decrease – 38
    No difference – 20

    Would you support tax cuts for..
    Businesses?
    Support – 48
    Oppose – 33

    High earners?
    Support – 19
    Oppose – 65

    Should there be an EU referendum?
    Yes – 57
    No – 27
    (See AW’s comments about referendums in the post above..)

    How would you vote?
    Vote to leave – 49 (nc)
    Vote to stay – 32 (+4)
    Wouldn’t vote – 4 (-1)

    CoE (And only CoE Voters – 512 voters, so subsample warning)
    In touch or out of touch?
    In touch – 8 (12)
    Out of touch – 76 (71)

    Should allow women bishops?
    Should – 78 (77)
    Shouldn’t – 10 (11)

    Would you support parliament intervening to change the law on women bishops?
    Support – 34 (31)
    Don’t – 49 (57)

    CoE opposes gay marriage, is it right to oppose it?
    Right – 38 (50)
    Wrong – 48 (37)

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  31. This 11 point Lab VI lead is awful – it should be much higher.

    And the Con VI is heading upwards, is probably on an irreversible trend and trajectory.

    Lab can’t won the next GE. They’re doomed.

    Making non-partisan posts is so cathartic.

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  32. Richard in Norway

    I wouldn’t describe myself as a biblical scholar (although I did study Luke for O level RE!)

    It always strikes me that if you believe in that sort of thing, if the Bible was a set of instructions from an all knowing God, he may have just been a bit clearer if he was really bothered about Homosexuality. He missed a real trick by omitting it from the 10 commandments. But I’m told he works in mysterious ways…

    However, more interesting is that Jesus was pretty clear on the evils of money … no ifs no but,,the rich WON’T make it to heaven … end of.

    Funny that 99% of Christians seem to overlook this one…especially the Churches?????

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  33. @MIKE N
    The economy will turn around at the right time…Iran will be defeated in the next war…Cameron will reform the EU…He might even have a child a day before the election in a marginal seat…Labour will be down to their lowest share and there`ll be a massive Conservative majority.

    All on the cards really.

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  34. Redfish

    Indeed, that’s why I’m not a Christian, its too bloody hard

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  35. Smukesh

    You’ve seen the future!

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  36. http://conservativehome.blogs.com/platform/2012/11/fromchriswhite_mp-.html

    Something I’ve been saying since the election. Unfortunately what the article doesn’t say is that one of Osborne’s first acts was to cut annual investment allowances. And manufacturing investment tanked.

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  37. @Mike N and Smukesh
    It was inevitable I am afraid. We must accept our fate with good grace. The green shoots of economic recovery are somewhere thereabouts, more or less-ish. All that on top of yesterday’s hullaballoo which resulted in me tearing up my Ovalteenies membership card on account of it probably being on the list of banned organisations.

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  38. @SMukesh

    If you had added that the bill to allow gay marriage was defeated by 600 votes you would have encapsuled my wishes exactly

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  39. PETE B
    Also from Leviticus 20 –
    “For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death”, “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”
    It’s pretty hardline stuff (the punishment for any heterodox relationship seems to be death) – the sort of things that people in this country condemn certain countries for doing.

    I realise you prefaced it with, “I know that it’s possible to find support for almost any argument in The Bible”, but given the context of the quote, perhaps it isn’t the best example to give. ;)

    Ultimately the gay marriage debate isn’t really about the sanctity of marriage (if it were about homosexuality being a sin, there’d surely be support for criminalising homosexuality again?), but about theological and cultural (for lack of a better word) supremacy.
    If we respected separation of church and state (something that we can’t fully do without disestablishing the church), we’d legalise gay marriage and allow individual churches, given that some liberal churches support gay marriage, decide whether they performed the ceremonies – which is exactly what the government is proposing.

    SoCal
    Direct democracy seems to work pretty well in Switzerland without major economic upsets.

    RedFish
    “Funny that 99% of Christians seem to overlook this one”
    Not sure that’s entirely accurate – there’s plenty of Christian socialists and communists out there. Even Marx borrowed the phrasing ‘each according to their need’ from Acts 4 (although perhaps via other earlier socialists). ;)

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  40. Good to have a proper poll to talk about.
    It seems to me that the slight narrowing of labours lead we saw 2-3 weeks ago have been reversed and we are no back in the 10% range.
    Also, as I hoped and neutral comentators seemed to suggest (supported by the stuff amber put up a link to recently) the only change from the conference season has been a bit a lift for EM wwith of course some of the initial boost unwinding but a worthwhile amount

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  41. @SMukesh

    Should have also added ……and Britain leaves the European Union!

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  42. http://cdn.yougov.com/cumulus_uploads/document/lmlmhdqllh/YG-Archives-Pol-ST-results%20-%2023-251112.pdf

    Interesting. Over 60’s and COE members are more Conservative. Is the reason for this that as you get older you don’t like change, you become a little more selfish and you become a Church regular as you get nearer to the departure point ?

    Bad polling for Tories in Midland/Wales and the North, with score of 28 and 26. I don’t know what the average is within these regions, but they have a lot of work to do, if they want to win a majority.

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  43. SoCalLiberal

    @ Allan Christie

    “Although I do have a gay friend who is opposed to gay marriage and gays being able to adopt children (not because they might support UKIP) <<<I had to get that bit in but becasue of the stigma it could cause to children in School etc."

    I find that strange. But I suppose there must be someone who thinks that way
    __________

    Well that's his views I'm affraid but I think he is just trying to look at the bigger and long term picture… in a negative way!!

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  44. Sorry sent before finishing.
    Good to have a proper poll to talk about.
    It seems to me that the slight narrowing of Labours lead we saw 2-3 weeks ago has been reversed and we are no back in the 10% range.
    Also, as I hoped and neutral comentators seemed to suggest (supported by the stuff Amber put up a link to recently) the only change from the conference season has been a bit a lift for EM with of course some of the initial boost unwinding but a worthwhile amount being sustained.

    We may see a good UKIP result at the By-Election in Rotherham given EU budget in the news and McShanes old jobs highlighting the issue a little; followed by a poll rise but reckon by Mid December it will fall back again.

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  45. OLDNAT

    THESHEEP

    “I’m from Aberdeen”
    __________

    Sorry I couldnt resist but someone from Aberdeen talking to a sheep lol. :)

    Anyone who kens a bit about Scottish football will get this!!

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  46. RiN

    I assume that in the Leviticus era there was a pressing need for healthy adults to procreate and maintain/increase the population of the tribe. Hence the condemnation of any activities which have folk their jollies in a non-procreative way.

    Didn’t the bans on eating shellfish and pork in Middle Eastern religions originate in the need to stop people eating foods that spread disease in their environment and climate 3000-odd years ago?

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  47. @PeteB

    Suspect the Labour Party will tailor its message to fit the audience. Gordon Brown has been spending a lot of time in Pakistan recently .

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  48. R HUCKLE
    CoE voters have always favoured the Tories over Labour –
    In 2005 it was Con 44, Lab 31, Lib 20, so changes from then are Con +1, Lab +5, Lib -13
    But compare to Catholic voters –
    Con 23, Lab 53, Lib 22

    Even in 1997, the VI for CoE was –
    Con 38, Lab 39, Lib 19
    And Catholic voters –
    Con 28, Lab 53, Lib 13

    So it’s not really “church regular” but “which church you belong to” – which is probably more to do with demographics, rather than actual theological impact.

    Something you have to factor in with these numbers is also church membership – 50% of people identified as CoE in 1997, down to 42% in 2005 – probably much smaller now, but I have no figures to back that up.
    Polling from May 2011 suggests that around 33% of Brits identify as CoE (61% of Christians, 55% of Brits self identify as Christian).

    You also have to factor self-identification in, rather than theological belief.
    55% of people in May 2011 self-identified as Christian (60% as belonging to some form of religion – 40% claiming no religion), but 61% of people did not actively believe in God (reduced to 50% if you remove those who do not believe God but in a spiritual power, reduced again to 26% if you remove those who don’t know what they believe).
    And it depends what you ask – only 17% of people identify as not religious at all, but 6% of people are agnostic and 19% do not believe in God or any spiritual power.

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  49. I should have deleted “probably much smaller now, but I have no figures to back that up.” as I found the polling during completing my post…

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  50. I should have also pointed out that the tables for religion in 2011 are here:
    http://cdn.yougov.com/cumulus_uploads/document/2l6avzlerp/Religion.pdf
    64301 adults surveyed between April 13th and May 20th.

    Hardly a small sample size. ;)

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