The Church of England have released a poll they claim shows the vast majority of people believe in the power of prayer, when it does no such thing. There is nothing at all wrong with ICM’s actual polling, which asks people “Irrespective of whether you currently pray or not, if you were to pray for something at the moment, What would it be for?” (emphasis is mine). A perfectly reasonable question, asking people what they would pray for, if they were the sort of person who did pray.

However, the Church of England have gone rather rogue in interpreting the results, deciding that everyone who gave an answer to ICM’s hypothetical question of what people would pray for if they prayed must therefore believe in prayer – putting out a press release claiming that “Four out of five British adults believe in the power of prayer”. The Telegraph has gone on a similar flight of fancy, declaring “Six out of seven people still believe that prayers can be answered despite a dramatic drop in formal religious observance, a study has found.”

In a population where only around half of people believe in a god at all, any claim that 80% of people believe prayer works should ring alarm bells anyway. For the record the last poll I can find that actually asked whether people believed that prayer worked was by YouGov for the Sun in 2012. That found 31% of people believed that prayer worked in some way (that is they thought prayers were heard by God, or were physically answered in some other way), compared to 45% who did not and 25% who weren’t sure.

Hat tip to Alex Hern at the New Statesman for spotting it – his own mockery is here.

Meanwhile this morning’s YouGov poll for the Sun had topline figures of CON 30%, LAB 41%, LDEM 13%, UKIP 11%. The thirteen points for the Liberal Democrats is the highest that YouGov have shown them since November 2010. While all the usual caveats about individual polls apply, it is indicitative of a broader underlying trend – since the end of last year there has been a definite uptick in levels of Lib Dem support in YouGov’s daily polling. Last autumn YouGov were typically showing them at 8-10%, in recent weeks they have typically been showing them at around 11-12%.

317 Responses to “No, 80% of people do NOT “believe in prayer””

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  1. Randall:

    1/ If you pray before a battle you have an even chance of being vidicated by the result.

    2/ Has it never occurred tp you that, in those religious times, the other lot prayed as well? So vindication for the efficacy of prayer was 100%

    Oh – except that it was also 100% the opposite as well of course. Richard III was deeply religious for example; had a far better claim to the throne; prayed devoutly before the battle of Bosworth Field and was hacked to death for his trouble.

    Proving? Utterly nothing. No-one was istening.

  2. Paulcroft
    As much as the comments made by myself may seem offensive I don’t feel it neccesary to back away from ‘ignorant’ or ‘bull-headed’, as neither of these are used as offensive but rather as reprimanding words. I have to admit I was feeling a little angry at the comments made and the word ‘arrogant’ might be a bit much. I’ll have to meet you. As for your comments on my english I got an A star at both GCSE and A-level.

    Any way on the subject of D Miliband I have to say I agree with you Amber and Alec a lot more than I agree with you on your opinion of prayerful citizens.

  3. Gawd that’ll have Saint Cristina of Odone wetting her knickers.

  4. Always pleased to oblige any prejudices present and confirm preconceptions. It has been a difficult day actually but enjoyed exchanges of views on EU matters and of course the use of forbidden symbols. :-)

  5. David Miliband is just another here-today-gone-tomorrow politician, the Labour Party will get over it, he’s nothing special, a bit more special than Cameron, but my tortoise is more special than he is.

  6. @Paulcroft
    (If both your last posts were about me)if you believe that to be an insult, I’m sorry. These comments were for interest not insult. You did not seem to reply anything concerning Ezekiel. I woul be interested in your views on this. Fluke? If anybody was insulted in your reply to my comment it was me. Not that I mind.

  7. @Paulcroft – with you, by and large, on the religious stuff.

    If someone told me they believed in faeries, I wouldn’t be rude about it, but likewise I wouldn’t show any particular respect for it either. Why should I – they believe in faeries! I see no difference between that belief and most of the religions out there. I wouldn’t insult them, but I would quite freely state that I can’t share their belief in the supernatural and place their belief structures in the same place as astrology, crystal therapy or ouija boards.

    I’m perfectly happy to accept that many people take such views as a spur to do god things, but in return I expect religious believers to also accept that many such people also take these beliefs as a spur to justify bad things.

    I do accept that some people find this kind of talk very difficult personally, as it rather strikes at the central aspect of their self view, but that’s as it is I’m afraid. I’m a rationalist and an East Fife supporter* – I can’t afford to get upset by those who disagree.

    [*There is a philosophical case to be made that supporting East Fife is not rational. I’ll deal with this in a later post].

  8. Reginald

    I got an A in O-Level French (back when O-Levels really meant summat lad!)

    French is not my first language.

    My spoken French these days is considerably more execrable than Winston Churchill’s speech about fromage.

    Exam eh? Over-rated…

  9. @Leftylampton#
    Thanks for the slightly more friendly response. All the same I can confirm I am born and bred in UK (Scotland actually). Last time I checked learning French and learning the English course were two different things for an native Briton. Thanks for the info, however. (Liked the accent)

  10. By the way, being an English speaker, I am ashamed at the words ‘slightly more’. Disgusting grammar!! Sorry.

  11. Reginald

    Please read stuff clearly – I made no comment at all on your English.


    My first comment immediately followed one by Colin – who was clearly offensive to Howard [bloody hell this is like primary school with bigger words!!!!] I thought the intended recipient was clear by that context.

    My post to you was simply a factual rebuttal of your point that prayer was successful. The fact that the law of averages means it wil sometimes appear to be so is a total irrelevance in rational debate.

    If Ezekiel [whoever he was] carries the burden of your proof of something religious then that is fine by me.

  12. Richo

    Even as a Conservative voter, I am gutted at the news that David Miliband is stepping down as an MP and leaving politics.

    To think that ordinary Labour Party members wanted him as their leader, but of course the unions put in what they thought was the slightly lefter candidate. If I was a Labour man, I would be holding the unions responsible for Labour losing such a good politician.

    On the other hand, if he is prepared to leave politics so readily, it may be that his heart wasn’t really in it any more. There was certainly always an open invitation to return to the shadow cabinet and there doesn’t seem to have been much antagonism between the brothers despite what the Press would like. His wife is American and his children adopted from there, so moving isn’t a surprise.

    I always remember when the Labour Party result was announced and he looked so happy that Nick Robinson went off into a long spiel about how he had won decisively (so completely wrong as usual). I think he’s probably a very nice man, but I suspect that like some others of his politics-obsessed cohort, he’s simply fallen out of love with it and realised how much is missing from his life.. In a sense failing to get elected was the luckiest thing that ever happened to him.

    And I have no illusions that if he had won, the honeymoon with the media would have only lasted for a few months (Ed had none because he made them look as ignorant as they are) before exactly the same insults were aimed his way.

  13. Sorry Lefty
    I made another mistake. Not an English one. I replied for Reginald. Ignore me on both accounts. I’m sleepy.

  14. @Paulcroft
    I’m sorry. I seem to have got into the habit of answering for Reginald. Richo and Roger Mexico got off lucky – i’m not answering for them. This Reginald chaps a little offensive for my liking so I can confirm I am not anything like him other than in the first letter of my name.
    What you said in reference to Ezekiel, however, surprises me. Surely if you are to be a critic of religion you must have some idea of the religion you are criticizing. The Bible is not a bad book even if its for your English.

    I.m sorry for previous mistakes however. I better apologise to ‘Reginald’ too.

  15. Is Randal getting himself mixed up with Reginald?

    What is going on?



    Fairies would be great. Have I ever tod you about my character “Fairy Nuff” in my pantomime? Every time someone on stage says “Oh… fair enough” the stage crew incorrectly chuck her on, simulating flying but not at the right cue. Its bloody hilarious. I also had a part for Robert De Niro [Bob] in it – but he never gets on.

    That’s dead funny too.

    Re. religion, my festiival is held partly at the Bowes Museum and partly at a lovely local church. I would find it hugely embarrassing to go to the friendly vicar [who shares your name] and say

    “Right: heaven and angels and so on. How does that all work?”

    Because there really is no answer.

    So, in my view, there is almost an embarrassed conspiracy of silence about religion from the average person which doesn’t happen in any other field I can think of.

    Oh – apart from East Fife I s’pose.

  16. East Fife

    Just checking if that is what put my great post into automod

  17. Nope

    Anyway, is Randal getting himself mixed up with Reginald was one thing I queried.

  18. Randall
    I see you apologised to me for answering some questions for me. Don’t worry I made a similar mistake on your part. Paulcroft was speaking to you when I answered about my english results. Randall and Reginald aren’t that similar.
    Sorry to see you think I’m offensive. I like your posts.

  19. Randall

    My own posts are now out of sync and I see you have realised the error of your ways.

    Re the bible I have a deeply atheist friend who says I should read it but I really couldn’t be bothered.

    I do love xmas carols though so, even tho’ I don’t believe in it I shall probably go to heaven and play lute and [weather permitting] footy.

  20. My My people are fractious tonight.

    Time for bed children.

    I am sure you’ll all be in a better mood after a good nights sleep.


  21. @Paulcroft
    Thanks for the more friendly post. You might not be as bad as Reginald makes out. I’m slightly sceptical of your vision of heaven, however. My eyelids are a little heavy so I’m off to bed. Don’t think you’ve converted me to aetheism but thanks for the lively discussion.

  22. @Richo

    Far be it from me to defend the Labour party, but that seems very much seeped in Conservative spin.

    If they were daft enough to ‘blame’ the ordinary affiliated members, they’d be effectively saying they’re unwelcome as an influence, and better accept they’ll stop paying their fees to the party (and more or less bankrupt the party). I note there’s no mention of the PLPs influence in D. Milibands favour? If D. Miliband wasn’t so stringently Blairite he’d have had a much bigger majority over charisma-free Ed in the member vote to see him through, and not such a huge deficit in the affiliated vote. As it was, he didn’t, and that’s through to his failings to depart from New Labour prescriptions.

    Of course, I completely understand why a Tory would mourn the loss of a frankly unmemorable politician, because as leader he would’ve ensured a cosy consensus where even if Labour won we’d travel ever rightwards (just like another “enormous loss” to our politics, Blair did).

  23. Expectations are that South Shields by election will be the same day as the May local elections. Labour should hold it barring a real disaster. It will be interesting to see how the UKIP do. I don’t think they fielded a candidate in 2010.

  24. It’s not surprising that regular UKPR bloggers repeat myths about Ed Miliband’s election as LP leader when the BBC’s political correspondent led the way tonight by saying that it was the unions who put him in against the votes of the majority of Labour members. The Party’s electorate is in three parts – MPs, individual party members and affiliated members ie mainly trade unionists. My recollection is that Ed Miliband obtained more individual votes when you count them on a one member one vote basis. Because the value of MPs votes is artificially multiplied under the quota rules this made the contest very close. Political pundits and Labour opponents then added a further “spin” by talking about the union vote as if it was wielded by reincarnated dinasaurs like Scargill, Scanlon and Red Robbo. In fact it comprises the secret votes of thousands of affiliated LP members. The fact that many but not not all union leaders supported Ed did not compel their members to cast their votes in this direction as they would surely have been equally if not more exposed to the commonly expressed media view that the election was between a respectable social democrat good guy and a disagreeable younger brother “Red Ed “. The fact that the majority of LP members did not fall for this is perhaps a credit to their principles and powers of discernment. However it is sad to see that these myths live on at the BBC and beyond,

  25. Just putting out my prediction now…

    Labour will win South Shields

    I’m going to push the boat out here and make a second prediction.

    Labour will claim that the fact they won South Shields, is somehow (by some spinning), a disaster for the Conservatives.

  26. Amber

    The elder milliband was mp for south shields, That’s just so wrong. Why do all these southern champagne socialists have seats in the gritty north? Mind, it the same thing with Scottish Tory’s in leafy southern seats. Makes a mockery of the whole idea of fptp

  27. Welsh Borderer

    “saying that it was the unions who put him in against the votes of the majority of Labour members.”

    That’s not myth it’s fact. DM won the MP votes, and the party member votes, but the trade unions who I believe are affiliated votes not member votes, overturned this because they voted overwhelmingly in favour of EM.

    So the point that the Trade Unions over ruled the members is fact not myth. Whether you believe it to be fair or not is another question, and is the one you are trying to argue.

  28. I still like the way the labour party elects leaders, I would want a say as well if I was paying union dues

  29. @Craig

    Agree. It does surprise me how those who pay the Union levy are constantly derided as lesser members of the Labour Party. I know exactly what happened in this election, as my wife pays the Union levy. Her Union encouraged her to vote for Ed, but there was no compulsion at all. Nor was there a block vote. Every Union member cast an individual vote.

    Labour are better of with Ed. Had DM won, Labour’s current approach would be indistiguishable fron the Tories. He would not have led Ed’s campaigns, nor spoken the language of more traditional Labour voters.

    As someone who last voted for Labour in 1997, I don’t think I would have voted for DM. At least with Ed, I can’t dismiss the prospect of voting for him out of hand.

  30. Amber

    Before you or somebody else brings up clegg in Sheffield, yes that totally horlicks as well

  31. Randall

    Christianity hasn’t been spoken for much.

    Nah, haven’t heard a peep out of them for the last 2,000 years.

    It is interesting how, in history, prayerful Christians have prevailed. Examples of this are Robert the Bruce before Bannockburn, Lord Nelson before Trafalgar and suchlike.

    I’m sorry this is UKPR. We demand a large random sample of of the intensity of Christian (or otherwise) pre-battle prayer (or lack of) measured against the ditto, ditto of their opponents. Correlated with outcome. And taking into account that history (and piety) is written by the victors.

    It is also interesting how Biblical prophesies seem to have a habit of coming about…Ezekiel’s prophesy concerning … the Princes of Tubal rising in anger against Israel [ie] the peoples of Iran, Russia and parts of Syria […]

    So Ezekiel reckoned that in the next 2,600 years or so, a country might be invaded by some of its neighbours. How do they do it?

    Sorry to take the (St) Michael (he lied unconvincingly), but you seem to to be falling into the (not very Christian) fault of seeing religion as magic – something that will produce the desired results if you perform the right actions; something that entitles you to things. This has already been movingly dismissed by believers such as Peter Cairns earlier in the thread. It’s a pretty poor vision of God to be a slightly less powerful version of Tesco online.

    Meanwhile if you want a really convincing religious experience, I’m listening to a very fine Bach St Matthew Passion here:

    (for some reason I always find that one-to-a-part particularly touching in the choruses and turba in the St Matthew)

  32. @Man In The Middle

    Wait a second. There was an electoral college. MPs 1/3, Rank and file members 1/3 and Trade Union members 1/3.

    If it was a simple OMOV election, on FPTP, who would have won? I don’t know the answer, but the weighting of MPs votes would have been substantially reduced.

    You also further that it was not an OMOV vote, but contested under the Alternative Vote. So,it’s a little, more complicated than you suggest.

  33. @Man In The Middle

    Wait a second. There was an electoral college. MPs 1/3, Rank and file members 1/3 and Trade Union members 1/3.

    If it was a simple OMOV election, on FPTP, who would have won? I don’t know the answer, but the weighting of MPs votes would have been substantially reduced.

    You also further that it was not an FPTP vote, but contested under the Alternative Vote. So,it’s a little, more complicated than you suggest.

  34. @Man In The Middle

    Wait a second. There was an electoral college. MPs 1/3, Rank and file members 1/3 and Trade Union members 1/3.

    If it was a simple OMOV election, on FPTP, who would have won? I don’t know the answer, but the weighting of MPs votes would have been substantially reduced.

    Further that it was not an FPTP vote, but contested under the Alternative Vote. So,it’s a little, more complicated than you suggest.

  35. Why was my message duplicated?!

  36. Rog

    There isn’t a tuba in the st mathew – you’re thinking of nellie the elephant

  37. Alec

    As a long-time (and permanently) lapsed Catholic and born again Atheist who discovered the Scientific Method just in time, I am very, very close to agreeing with you 100%.

    But then.

    As a child, I experienced a very close family member dealing with a crushing personal trauma by turning to God and throwing himself entirely into the Church. That turned around a life that could well have collapsed.

    The person in question developed confidence and direction from his belief, and became a head teacher who turned round a failing Don Valley school.

    When I reflect on that, it makes me pause before pouring out my Rationalist arguments against religion.

  38. David M won more votes from MPs and Labour Party members than Ed M., or any other candidate, in every round of the election; the reverse was true for affiliated members & it was of course the latter who secured the election for Ed. M.
    Ed made more promises to Union members than his more [scrupulous] brother & it would be fair to say that many union members think he has reneged on a number of those promises. Whether this is a good or bad thing is another matter.

  39. I liked DM and wanted him leader but that was many on tv personality (shallow I know) I was living in the US for many of the years of the last Labour government and was used to seeing DM on US tv and he came across very well.

    But now, I think EM was the right choice as I think he is taking the party almost imperceptibly to the left and away from the cosy consensus – I am expecting more of that as the election approaches.

    I think if DM is not concerned to help at this time of Austerity then really he does not have much in the way of committment to the Labour Party and I am quite dsappointed in him,

  40. @ RAF

    Why was my message duplicated?!
    Because it was really, really, really good :-)

  41. IMO, The most important thing which Ed Miliband has said is that wealth is created from the bottom up & that ‘trickle down’ is a failed ideology not an economic fact. I don’t recall David Miliband saying anything as straightforward or important as that simple statement by Ed. Whether Ed will live up to it, we must wait to see.

  42. @LeftyLampton

    Well I don’t think Alec or any others would deny that religion can help people (I know of many cases myself), but that’s independent of the actual truth of its dictates in themselves.

    Personally my view is so long as the belief isn’t causing harm (physical, emotional, developmental etc.) to the person who holds it, isn’t making them cause harm to others then I don’t see that there is any problem.

    N.B. I mean this in relation to all beliefs be they religious, political and so on.

  43. @ RiN

    The elder milliband was mp for south shields, That’s just so wrong. Why do all these southern champagne socialists have seats in the gritty north? Mind, it the same thing with Scottish Tory’s in leafy southern seats.
    It’ll be interesting to see if Labour have a local candidate for South Shields. It’s the local CLP who decide whether or not they accept & vote for a ‘parachute’ candidate.

  44. “If it was a simple OMOV election, on FPTP, who would have won? I don’t know the answer, but the weighting of MPs votes would have been substantially reduced.”
    Well we know who would have won a OMOV election under AV –
    Ed Miliband
    And assuming the voting went the same way under FPTP (which it wouldn’t due to tactical voting), we know who would have won –
    Ed Miliband

    First round results (OMOV) –
    David Miliband – 114205
    Ed Miliband – 125649
    Ed Lead +11444

    Final round results (OMOV) –
    David Miliband – 147220
    Ed Miliband – 175519
    Ed Lead +28299

    So while Ed won the federal vote by 1%, he won the ‘One man-One vote’ by 8%.
    The federal system was purposely designed to weaken the union vote, because there are so many more (paying) union members than labour party members.

    But we’ve been through this again and again – and nobody’s going to be convinced by it, because union members aren’t ‘real’ members of the Labour party in the eyes of those who would spin an anti-Ed or anti-Union narrative.

    Anyway – YouGov
    Con 30, Lab 39, Lib 13, UKIP 12
    Approval -35

    Lab at 39 is lowest since November (but does not necessarily indicate further trend downward) – second Lib of 13 could indicate a trend upward, but we’ll have to wait and see.

  45. Labour’s fall below 40 after a run of low 40’s and Lib Dems second 13 is notable. Perhaps Byrne/Labour’s excellent work on opposing the bedroom tax may be the cause?

  46. @Roger Mexico
    Interesting that you made your reply to me after I made it quite clear I was going to bed. Unfortunately your comments don’t stack up to much as at no point did I refer to ‘magic’ and my comments were not from the perspective of a magical Christian but rather as somebody who would find it interesting to see how aetheists explained the bit about Ezekiel. You’ve used my comments to personally attack me on my faith and you still have not explained Ezekiel’s prophesy. I’m not a believer in magic, just a Christian.

  47. This is only going to end well.

  48. lol

    re earlier comment replace bedroom tax with workfare sanctions/retrospective laws. Lack of sleep.

  49. @ Randall

    I think that it is becoming a bit tedious.

    Although you asked Roger Mexico about Ezekiel, I can give you an answer. It is the fanciful play of the somewhat distorted mind to attribute such countries/nations to a time defined (Babylon) prophesy (which was heavily edited anyway). To be quite honest, even Nostredamus’s verses’ interpretations are more convincing then those of Ezekiel’s…

    But to offer you some arguments.There were no nations. Even countries are difficult to interpret for the period. There are many interpretations of the named prophesies (which countries they refer to), just have a quick google search and don’t allow your prejudices to ignore the pages that don’t confirm yours (e.g. that when the Scythians were nearby the armies of Gog and Magog were the Scytians. I actually don’t think that he referred to any particular ones.). It is the ignorance of history if the split of Judea and Izrael, then the collapse (occupation) of both are ignored and particular historic circumstances of the first half of the 20th century in the recreation of Izrael (not in the “original” form) is interpreted as if it was some sort of continuity.

  50. “Perhaps Byrne/Labour’s excellent work on opposing the bedroom tax may be the cause?”
    Given that the last 5 polls have been 41, it’s probably safe to assume the 39 is within MOE of that.

    However, this does force my 7-day weighted average down to 40.5 for Lab (still 41 rounded, obviously) from 40.9 yesterday.
    It could indicate a further decline on the Lab vote (from it’s peak of 43.5 pre-Eastleigh). but if tomorrow shows a 41, we can probably be quite certain that it was just noise.

    40.5 is the worst position for Lab since the Omnishambles budget, but it was as low as 38.5 in January 2012, so it’s not their lowest point.

    Cons on 30.4 is their second lowest (lowest being 30.2, caused by a couple of 29s) and they’re still at their lowest point this parliament – lower than the omnishambles period (caused by a shift to UKIP post-Eastleigh).

    So neither of the main parties have much to cheer about at the moment, in terms of polling.

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