Following on from their teaser last month, Theos have released a much larger poll on the subject of evolution and religion carried out by ComRes. The full report is available here, hopefully the full tables will follow soon.

I’ll come onto the evolution questions in the later post, today I’m going to look at some of the broader questions on religion and belief that the poll asked. I’ve discused polls about belief in god on here before – they can produce quite different answers depending on whether belief in a “vague spiritual power” or similar is lumped in with belief in a personal god, and whether the survey is conducted on the phone or on the internet. In this case ComRes asked people about whether they believed in a god, offering a list of options that included belief in god, and belief in a vague higher power or just “being spiritual”.

17% said they didn’t believe in a god
12% were agnostic
19% believed in some vague higher power or spiritualism, but not in a god
53% believed in god

They then asked about god’s relationship with the universe.

34% believed in a god who created the universe and remains involved with it
8% believed in a deistic view of god who created the universe, then kept out of it
20% believed in an impersonal god, or that the universe itself is god
31% believed god was just an invention of man.

So while 53% say they believe in a god, fewer than that actually believe in a personal god who intervenes in the world (roughly two thirds of those who said they believed in a god chose that option). While only 17% reject the idea of a god entirely, almost a third said “god” is an invention of man (about half of those who believe in vague higher powers or spirituals think god is a human construct).

Part of what we are getting here is probably people who haven’t thought much about it and are giving inconsistent views, but I expect it’s also because people have quite complex views that it’s difficult to fix into boxes. One person who thinks the gods of organised religion are bunkum, but does believes there is “something out there” might tick the box saying he doesn’t believe in god, another might tick the higher power box. There are a lot of overlapping beliefs here.

Turning then to organised religion, 60% said they were Christian. We can already see an issue here – if 60% of the sample are Christian, and only 53% believe in god, we have lots of Christians out there who aren’t Christians in any meaningful sense. In ComRes’s analysis they asked how often people attended church, read the bible and prayed. They classified people who did the first two of these at least several times a month, and prayed at least once a week as “practising Christians”. I think that’s probably rather a tough hurdle for people to pass (one can think, for example, of devout but bedridden believers), but for what it’s worth it equates to 9% of the population being “practising Christians”.

Asked about the bible, 26% of respondents thought it was the divinely inspired word of god, 37% thought it was a valuable guide… but not the word of god. 19% said it was beautiful literative and no one thatn that and 11% thought it was a collection of downright dangerous myths. Asked specifically about Genesis, 18% thought it was a literal account of the creation, 27% thought it was a theological account intended to be about the meaning of the universe, not a literal account, 17% thought it was intended to be a literal account, but has subsequently been proved wrong and 26% thought it was purely an ancient creation myth.

Finally before we come onto the evolution part of the poll, ComRes asked about belief in other issues. 70% of people believed in a soul, 55% believed in heaven, 53% believed in life-after-death, 39% believed in ghosts, 27% believed in re-incarnation, 22% in astrology and 15% in fortune telling.

I’ll put up a second post later in the week dealing with the evolution questions, though the results are all in the Theos report to read yourself. For those looking for political polling, there might or might not be a Populus poll for you tonight – they normally carry it out over the first weekend of the month, so it depends whether they are counting it as the one just gone or the one coming! We are also overdue a ComRes voting intention poll.

While we are waiting for Populus tonight here’s some bits and bobs from the last few days. Over the weekend there was a new System Three poll in Scotland showing voting intention in a possible referendum on Scottish Independence. The poll showed support for YES at 38%, for No at 40%. It’s a narrowing of the gap since the last time System Three asked the question in October 2008, but in pretty much the same territory as the previous times they asked the question.

Notably there is a huge difference between this and when YouGov asked a similar question in Scotland last week. They found support at 29% for YES and 55% for NO. There’s no obvious reason for the difference. The two questions are:

YouGov: The SNP wishes to hold a referendum on Scottish independence in due course. Voters would be asked whether they agree or disagree ‘that the Scottish government should negotiate a settlement with the Government of the United Kingdom so that Scotland becomes an independent state’. How would you vote if such a referendum were held tomorrow? I would vote YES (i.e. for Scottish independence)/ I would vote NO (i.e. against Scottish independence)/ Don’t know/ Would not vote

System Three: The SNP have recently outlined their plans for a possible refrendum on Scottish independence in future. If such a referendum were to be held tomorrow, how would you vote? I AGREE that the Scottish Government should negotiate a settlement with the Government of the United Kingdom so that Scotland becomes an independent state/ I DO NOT AGREE that the Scottish Government should negotiate a settlement with the Government of the United Kingdom so that Scotland becomes an independent state/ Don’t know

The YouGov version is a bit bolder – it spells out the YES (for independent) and NO (against independence) a bit more clearly, and perhaps makes people think rather more about the independence rather than the negotiations – but they are pretty much in the same ball park.

On other subjects, there is a YouGov poll for the Jewish Chronicle here asking about support for a boycott of Israeli goods. Only 29% of people think it would be a good idea, with 41% opposed. On the wider issue of Israel’s behaviour, 22% think Israel is doing all it reasonably can to live in peace with Palestinians, 47% think Israel is being too harsh towards Palestinians.

Moving on, ComRes have done some polling about belief in evolution for Theos. I may come back to think properly later, but I think Theos’s own report on the polling figures, and evolution, creationism and so on, which can be downloaded here, is well worth reading.

Later on today we should get Populus’s monthly poll for the Times – it normally shows up at around 7.30pm or 8pm. I expect a lot of people will be waiting to see if it shows an increase Lib Dem support comparable to ICM’s at the weekend.


As well as the voting intention poll for the Indy, ComRes have also published a poll they have conducted for Theos. As with every other UK poll on the US election, it shows British people would overwhelmingly back Barack Obama rather than John McCain were they to have a vote in the US election. 66% would back Obama, 10% McCain.

More interestingly though ComRes also asked a series of questions asking whether people would be prepared to vote for a leader who was black, muslim, gay or from another minority group. The question drew its inspiration from a similar poll conducted in the USA by Gallup last year, which found amongst other things that 5% of American voters said they wouldn’t vote for a black candidate and a majority (53%) wouldn’t vote for an atheist.

ComRes’s poll in the UK found that 5% of British voters said they would not vote for a black leader. For all the concern that American voters are somehow more racist and more likely not to vote for a black candidate, the proportion of people ready to admit that they wouldn’t vote for a black candidate is the same in this country (though naturally, we cannot tell how many other people share those views but were unwilling to admit them to a phone interviewer).

This shouldn’t be a huge surprise as analysis of electoral data shows a racial effect in how people vote. Roger Mortimore of MORI crunched the figures for the 2001 election and found Labour did 2.5% worse than average in seats where a ethnic minority candidate had replaced a white one, and 6.1% better in seats where a white candidate had replaced one from an ethnic minority.

I can’t track down a proper study, but most people with experience of local government elections will be able to reel off anecdotal examples of where there would appear to have been a racial bias in people voting in multi-member wards (see, for example, the two split wards in Bexley in 2006 – Belvedere and Erith here).

In the UK the factor that drew the most opposition was age. 43% of people said they would not vote for an otherwise acceptable candidate for leader who was 72 years of age, almost the same as in the USA where 42% said they would not vote for a 72 year old President. It is potentially possible, of course, that this is partially a reflection that people are more willing to admit discriminating in terms of age than on sexuality or religion. After that came being either gay or lesbian, or being a Muslim – in both cases 23% of people (presumably not the same ones!) said they would not vote for an otherwise qualified candidate in those circumstances. The Gallup survey did not ask about whether people would vote for a Muslim President, but did ask about a homosexual candidate and found 43% of Americans would refuse to vote for them.

Most other groups met with comparatively little opposition. Only 7% of British voters would not vote for a divorcee. (In the US survey, which clearly had Rudy Guiliani in mind, 30% said they would not vote for a thrice-married Presidential candidate). 7% of voters said they would not vote for a female leader – interestingly this was evenly split between men and women. 7% of people said they would not vote for a Christian leader – a question that would perhaps have been more interesting if ComRes has asked about committed or evangelical Christianity to see if there was any truth in Alistair Campbell’s famous “we don’t do God”.

In the US survey, the most electoral objectionable group was atheists, with 53% of Americans saying they would not vote for an otherwise well-qualified Presidential candidate who was an atheist. One would expect that figure to be much lower in the UK, but actually it is still surprisingly high at 20%. One might not have guessed it, but not believing in God would appear to be almost as much of an electoral handicap for a potential leader in the UK as being Muslim or gay.

As usual the Sunday Times commissioned questions on a wide range of subjects, so here are some of the other findings from the weekend poll.

The Beijing Olympics. 49% of people said they would support a boycott of the Olympics by British athletes in response to China’s policy in Darfur and their past record.

Rowan Williams. The story seems to have blown over now, and there were no polls on the issue at the time. The YouGov poll found that 67% of respondents thought the Archbishop had damaged his authority through his comments. People were eqaully split on whether he should stand down as Archbishop of Cantabury, with 40% agreeing and 40% disagreeing.

National identity. Asked to chose just one word to describe themselves, 42% of people chose British, 54% chose one of the constituent nationalities. The YouGov tables don’t offer a single break for England, but in the English breaks people identifying primarily as English and people identifying primarily as British are pretty evenly matched. In Scotland 68% of people identified themselves primarily as Scottish, with only 22% saying British.

Phone tappling. YouGov gave respondents a list of scenarios and asked whether it would be appropriate for the authorities to tap telephones under those circumstances. Large majorities were opposed to the authorities bugging people organising peaceful demostrations against the government or trade unionists planning a strike (though even in those circumstances 9% and 8% of people respectively thought bugging would be OK with just the permission of a senior police officer). Only 34% objected to the bugging of people planning illegal (but non-violent) protests. For people suspected of more serious offences there was overwhelming support for the principle of bugging – 88% thought it fine to bug suspected drug dealers, 91% suspected terrorists. In both cases a majority thought only the permission of a senior police officer should be necessary.

There was, however, some support for the idea that conversations with lawyers or MPs should be sacrosanct. 28% thought suspected drug dealers conversations with lawyers should not be monitored. 22% thought suspected terrorists conversations with their lawyers shouldn’t be moderated. For conversations with MPs the figures were 23% and 18%.

Sharia Law

Various people in my comments have asked if there is any polling about attitudes toward Sharia law. Well, I don’t know of any polls of the general population – I suspect that it would be overwhelmingly, uniformly hostile. ICM did, howeer, ask the opinion of British Muslims back in February 2006.

Asked “Would you support or oppose there being areas of Britain which are pre-dominantly Muslim and in which Sharia law is introduced?” 40% of British Muslims said yes and 41% said no. This was not, of course, actually what the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested – he was talking about a parallel system where Muslims could opt to use Sharia courts for things like family and inheritance law rather than geographical areas where Sharia law was used.