There is currently an interesting discussion on whether the Conservative party should support or oppose further deregulation of Sunday opening hours on Tim Montgomerie’s Conservative Home. Rather conveniently, there is also a new ICM poll asking about exactly the same thing. 66% of people told ICM they regularly went shopping on Sundays, including 32% of people who regularly do their main weekly grocery shop on a Sunday. Asked if high street shops should be allowed to open for longer than the current 6 hour limit, 53% agreed, compared to 44% who disagreed. There was, however, strong (89%) support for the right of employees to refuse to work on Sundays without jeopardising their careers.
Support for longer Sunday opening hours was consistent across social classes – there wasn’t a higher or lower level of support amongst the less well off who might want to benefit from working longer hours (or who might suffer through being made to!). There was, however, a very strong contrast between the different age groups. Amongst under 25s there was very strong support for a relaxation of Sunday trading laws – 77% of respondents thought shops should be able to open for longer hours, with only 23% disagreeing. Support was still strong amongst people between 25-34, 63% of whom wanted deregulation. After this the sample became more evenly divided up until the over 65s, where there was suddenly a sizeable majority in favour of the status quo – 56% to 38%. It seems, therefore, that the younger you are the more likely you are to favour a relaxation of Sunday trading laws.
Historically, Sunday trading has been one of the things that pollsters regularly tracked. Prior to the 1994 Act that allowed shops to open on Sundays (prior to that many shops had opened anyway, since the 1950 Shops Act was basically broken. The 1994 Act banned large shops from opening beyond 6 hours a day), there had been a pretty consistent two-thirds support for legalising Sunday trading. Opposition was presumably based on concerns about the damage Sunday opening could do to family life, or the unique character of Sundays, since moral objections had largely vanished. In 1963 and 1965 Gallup found 26% and 27% of people respectively thought that shopping on Sundays would be morally wrong; by 1985 this had fallen to 9%. I don’t think the question has been asked since, but I suspect the figure will have fallen even further.