The ICM poll on faith schools which I covered yesterday has now turned up on the front page of the Guardian. The Guardian obviously highlights the finding that two thirds of people apparantly oppose faith schools – it isn’t actually that clear cut though.

The question gave people a choice of saying that they supported government funded faith schools and it was only fair that all religions were allowed them including Islam, that they supported faith schools, but not Islamic ones, or that they opposed government funded state schools entirely. In other words, it rather cleverly forced people to take into account the argument that it would be discrimatory to fund faith schools for religion A but not religion B. Faced with the choice between supporting religious discrimination, supporting government funded Islamic schools, or opposing faith schools entirely, two-thirds of people plumped for the latter.

In contrast, if ICM had asked “Do you support or oppose the government funding of Church of England and Catholic schools?” I suspect the number of people saying they opposed them would be far, far lower than 65%.
As I mentioned in my earlier post, polls that have asked people if they support faith schools without mentioning Islam, have generally produced much higher levels of support.

Neither gives a “truer” picture of public opinion, while ICM’s wording has forced respondents to consider some of the questions around faith schools and religious discrimination, the fact is that the wider public that the poll is representing probably haven’t stopped to consider those same questions.

As well as the poll on history, there was a second YouGov poll in today’s Telegraph covering people’s satisfaction with their GPs. The Telegraph’s report headlined the fact that only 44% of respondents said they had always been able to see a GP within 2 working days, when the Government said in May that “almost everybody” was able to see a doctor within 48 hours, putting the figure at over 99%.

I suspect part of the explanation for this is, as suggested by Andrew Lansley, that the government’s figures do not include people who ring their doctor’s surgery but cannot get through and give up. There is also the question of exactly when people last tried to visit their doctors; YouGov’s question asked specifically about visits to the GP in the last 12 months, but only 6% of YouGov’s respondents said they hadn’t been to their GP in the last six months, which seems remarkably low; I haven’t been to my GP in the last 12 years, let alone the last 12 months. MORI’s regular surveys of public perceptions of NHS services, carried out for the Department of Health, typically report that around 80% of people have visited their GP in the last year, while the Healthcare Commission’s figures, based on a self-completed postal survey of 120,000 patients, suggest that 85% of people went to their GP in the last year. My guess is that some of YouGov’s respondents were actually thinking of GP visits they made more than a year ago.

The Healthcare Commission’s figures also indicate that an awful lot of people are waiting more than 2 days though – 23% of people said they had to wait more than two days the last time they went to the doctors. It is a different question design to YouGov – the Healthcare Commission asked about just last time, while YouGov asked people to consider all the times they visited the doctors in the last year – but both of them suggest that a lot more people have to wait for a doctors appointment than the Government claim.

An interesting factor highlighted by the Telegraph’s analysis of the poll is that young people (under 30s) claimed to have less satisfactory service from their GPs and were less satisfied with their GP than older respondents (over 50s). Young people were much less satisified overall (19% said they were very satisfied compared to 47% of over 50s), their doctors spent less time with them, gave them less clear explanations, they were less likely to see the same GP, they were less likely to think the service had improved and doctors take their opinions less seriously.

There are, as the Telegraph says, at least two potential explanations for this. It could be that young people simply have greater expectations from the NHS than older respondents, and are less satisifed with the same quality of service. On the other hand, it could be a reflection of the fact that older respondents are more likely to visit their GP, are more likely to have built up a rapport with the doctor and their reception staff over a long period of time and are therefore likely to recieve a better service.


There are four new polls in today’s papers; first up we have ICM’s monthly poll for the Guardian. This is actually the same poll that the figures on A-Levels were drawn from last week, the second half was simply held back to fill more of those long, empty August columns! It’s worth bearing in mind, therefore, that the questions on civil liberties and terrorism were all asked prior to the leaks from the IPCC’s investigation into Jean Charles de Menezes’s death. None of the questions directly refer to the shoot to kill policy, but these things still have the potential to affect people’s opinions.

The topline voting intention figures (for what little they are worth in this post-election, pre-Conservative leadership election phase) are CON 31%(nc), LAB 38%(-1), LD 22%(-1). The Guardian incorrectly reports Labour support as having increased one point since last month, but unless there has been some cunning change in methodology though ICM’s tables definitely had them at 39% last month. For those who follow these things, ICM’s topline adjustment for the spiral of silence – the manual re-allocations of don’t knows they make to their topline figures to account for people too shy to give their true voting intentions – actually harmed Labour this month. For the past couple of years it has tended to work in Labour’s favour.

ICM show the same boost in people’s satisfaction with Tony Blair’s performance as MORI, YouGov and BPIX have recorded since the London Bombings. 47% were satisfied with how he is doing his job as PM, with 45% disatisfied. This is Blair’s most positive rating in an ICM poll since the fall of Baghdad back in April 2003.

ICM went on to ask if respondents thought it was right to sacrifice some of our civil liberties to improve out security against terrorist attack. The majority (73%) of respondents thought this was right, with 17% disagreeing. Asked about some of the specific policies that have been floated in recent months, the strongest support was for allowing the police to hold suspected terrorists for up to 3 months without charge – this was supported by 68%, with only 19% opposing it. There was also strong support for deporting foreign nationals spreading radical Islamist views even – and this was specifically pointed out in the question – “if it means sending them back to countries that use torture”; 62% supported this, with 19% opposing it.

The lowest level of support was for the suggestion of banning organisations that promoted radical Islamist views, “even if they don’t advocate violence”. This is an uncomfortable area for the Guardian, since last month it was revealed that they had employed a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, one of the organisations that Tony Blair has subsequently announced will be banned. Support for the ban is less clear cut than the other two measures but people supporting it still outnumber those against, 45% approve of such a move, 31% disapprove.

Finally ICM asked about faith schools, a question which I don’t think the Guardian has published. The question was worded in quite an interesting way. Past polls have produced some contrasting figures for public attitudes to faith schools – back in 2001 MORI asked if people supported or opposed faith schools “run by religious groups such as the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church?” – 35% supported them, 27% opposed them ,the rest were neutral. An ICM poll for BBC Three in April 2004 found that 44% of people were in favour of faith schools, with 21% against, the rest were neutral. Last December, YouGov found that 56% of people thought that “The Government should encourage the parents of children of all faiths, including Christians, to send their children to the same schools.”

Compare these to a YouGov/Observer poll back in 2001 which found 80% against when it asked if people wanted to see the extention of single faith schools, including “religions such as Islam and Judaism”.

The difference comes when polls mention that faith schools will include faiths other than Christianity – people will tend to be broadly positive when asked about “faith schools”, presumably imagining nice cuddly CofE and Catholic schools in little country villages. Ask them about “faith schools, including religions such as Islam” and views suddenly turn negative.

So, turning to today’s poll, ICM gave people what amounted to a forced choice – they were given the options of opposing all government funded faith schools, explictly saying that the government should support faith schools for other religions but not Islam, or saying that the government should support faith schools including Muslim ones. The result was that a large majority (64%) of people said they opposed faith schools alltogether, rather than support Muslim faith schools (25%), or explictly discriminate against one religion (8%).

This does raise the question of what is the true public opinion? Do people support or oppose faith schools? I suspect the simple answer is that most people haven’t really thought about it at length, hence the different answers depending upon whether you make them consider Islamic schools or not.

Today’s Telegraph reports a YouGov poll on how much people know about British history, or more specifically, the three major historical events whose anniversaries have been commemorated this year – VE day, VJ day and the Battle of Trafalgar.

The poll was actually carried out at the tail end of June, and presumably held over to fill a couple of column inches during the August drought. What this does mean it that it would have been carried out at roughly the same time that the BBC was busy showing documentaries about Lord Nelson rather than last week when they were showing documentaries about Hiroshima. It probably isn’t entirely co-incidental that respondents knew about Nelson but not Hiroshima.

YouGov began by asking if people thought it was important for children to be taught about these sort of historial events – the overwhelming majority (93%) thought it was at least fairly important. This sort of question doesn’t tell us much though as there is no trade off; it’s important for children to be taught all sorts of things but, given the limited time and resources in schools, the real question is priorities.

YouGov then asked 10 General Knowledge questions about the three events, with mixed results. Given that the survey was carried out at the time of the Trafalgar commemorations it is relief to know that almost everyone (90%) could name Lord Nelson as the victorious British Admiral. After that knowledge began to falter – while the overwhelming majority of over-50s knew that Trafalgar took place in the Napoleonic Wars, only two-thirds of under 35s did. Asked where the battle of Trafalgar took place, only 35% of people knew, although a further 9% said the coast of Portugal, so were warm. Most people simply said they didn’t know.

On the subject of VE day, YouGov asked people who was the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. Only 37% of people correctly chose Eisenhower, with 18% and 19% of people respectively saying Montgomery or Churchill. There was a very sharp age difference here – over half of the over 50s named Eisenhower but amongst under 35s the most common answer was Churchill (26%), with only 21% giving the correct answer.

YouGov then asked which of a list of 6 countries were neutral throughout World War II. While nearly everyone knew that France wasn’t neutral, only 38% and 35% correctly picked out Spain and Portugal. Around a fifth of people thought that Denmark and Norway were neutral. Again, over 50s were most likely to correctly pick the two neutral countries.

Finally on the subject of the war in Europe, YouGov asked which Allied army took Berlin – only 41% of people knew it fell to Soviet forces. Again, the over 50s were the most likely to give the correct answer, but they were also most likely to give the wrong answer, saying that British or US forces were present at the fall; under 35s tended to just say they didn’t know.

Next YouGov asked two questions about the War in the Pacific. Asked what events are considered to have led directly to the Japanese surrender, just over three-quarters of respondents correctly named the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Again there was a stark difference between the age groups: 87% of over 50s knew the correct answer, only 62% of under 35s did. There was an even starker contrast when aksed what Britain’s greatest defeat in the Far East was – 62% of over 50s said the fall of Singapore, only 18% of under 35s did.

Finally YouGov asked who became Prime Minister after the 1945 General Election that fell between VE and VJ day. Only 31% correctly named Clement Attlee as the victor, with 29% thinking that Churchill was re-elected. Amongst under 35s, more people said Churchill (26%) than Attlee (22%) although even amongst over 50s 30% thought that Churchill won.

The obvious trend throughout the questions were that older respondents were far more knowledgable about history than younger respondents. In some cases – in the World War Two questions at least, obviously not the Napoleonic ones – it can be explained by personal experience – some older respondents lived through World War Two. There is also the question of the actual content that is taught in school history lessons today – the Napoleonic Wars don’t really figure in the National Curriculum, but the Second World War certainly does – indeed the, probably rather unfair, caricature of recent history teaching is that it’s entirely made up of Tudors and Hitler. Perhaps it can also been explained through different emphasis on teaching history, aside from the one on Hiroshima YouGov’s questions were mainly about names and places, and therefore more suited to people whose knowledge was gained when history teaching concentrated on facts, figures and narrative, rather than broad social themes.

Amongst under 35s the average score out of ten was 3.77 while amongst over 50s the average mark was 6.16. Interestingly though, there was another very sharp contrast that Tony King’s write up in the Telegraph doesn’t mention – the difference between men and women was just as sharp as between the old and young. The average score amongst male respondents was 6.22, the average score amongst female respondents was 3.95. Is history just a “male” subject, or was it because the questions were all “war” questions? Perhaps it’s simply that the male respondents have spent their lives watching war movies.

Following the details of the IPCC investigation into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, leaked earlier this week, there is a new BPIX poll in today’s Mail on Sunday. When it first emerged that Mr de Menezes was not a terrorist public support for the “shoot to kill” policy remained pretty much unchanged. A YouGov survey for the Mirror immediately after the shooting when it was still thought Mr de Menezes was a terrorist showed 71% support for the policy; a YouGov poll a few days later for the Economist when it was clear that Mr de Menezes was innocent showed an almost identical 70% support.

The revelations earlier this week that Mr de Menezes was, in fact, not wearing a bulky jacket, nor did he run from the police, or leap over a ticket barrier and he may not even have been warned have finally started to change public opinion: only 58% of people told BPIX they supported the shoot to kill policy, with 28% thinking it wrong. While this is still obviously an overall majority, it is a significant fall from earlier levels of support.

There was also a fall in support for Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair. In the days immediately following the London bombings BPIX found that 68% of people had confidence in Sir Ian Blair – following this week’s disclosures, confidence has fallen to only 54%. In July 23% said they had little or no confidence in Blair, that figure has now risen to 40%. BPIX also asked people directly whether or not Sir Ian Blair should resign over the police’s handling of the shooting – almost a quarter said he should, with 60% saying he should stay on.

While BPIX asked a number of other questions, the full details are sadly not available in the Mail on Sunday. From the article accompanying it though it seems that the survey also showed a fall in people’s confidence in the Prime Minister’s ability to cope with the terrorist treat. Back at the beginning of July 57% said they were confident in his ability, this has now dipped below half to 49% (the Mail on Sunday says this is a “dramatic” fall – given the public’s tendency to rally behind the government in the immediate aftermath of such an atrocity, it really isn’t. Realistically a slight fall was to be expected. They could well be right, however, to attribute part of the fall to the Prime Minister’s absence from the country).

BPIX also asked what should happen to the police who shot Mr de Menezes, and who should bear responsibility for his death. Regarding the policemen who actually shot Mr de Menezes, 59% said they should be allowed to get on with their work as usual (or receive commendations for their courage), 12% said they should be charged with murder. On the second question the Mail on Sunday says that slightly over a quarter of respondents said the responsibility for Mr De Menezes’ death lies with the bombers, while only 15% said it was the fault of the actual policemen. Who the other 60% of respondents blamed the Mail on Sunday simply doesn’t say, while respondents were presumably offered the opportunity to blame the police hierarchy, the government and so on, the Mail on Sunday hasn’t seen fit to tell us the results – which is a shame.