Populus/BBC – only 10% of people think there is nothing wrong with giving peerages to donors.
YouGov/This Morning – 6% of men have had sex with over 50 people, only 1% of women have. So who have they been having sex with? Well, it doesn’t ask about sexuality so obviously they could have been having sex with each other. More likely either the men, or the women, or both are “misremembering”.
ICM/NCH – 65% of people think they wouldn’t be eligible to adopt children.
ICM/No2ID – public still split straight down the middle on support for ID cards – 51% think they are a good idea, 49% a bad idea. Slightly more favourable than the last such poll, but essentially public opinion on the issue has been static over the last year.

Too much too young

Populus’ poll for the Times last week included a series of questions on what age limits should apply for things like smoking, drinking and getting married and revealed a broad consensus in favour of higher age limits.

As one might expect, there is a difference between responses from different age groups – younger people are less likely to favour increasing age limits (in his commentary Peter Riddell compared the average age limited suggested by people and commented on how small the differences were. I think looking at it that way minimises the difference – it is certainly there. For example, only 19% of under 25s would like to the age limit for buying alcohol raised to 21 or higher, while 41% of over 65s would. Only 1% of over 65s would like the age when you can legally drive lowered to 16, but 19% of under 25s would.)

Even so, even respondents under the age of 25 support increases in some age limits – 59% would like to see a higher age limit on buying cigarettes, 60% a higher age limit on joining the army, 88% a higher limit on when people can marry, 55% would like to see the legal driving age increased. Of course, these are only figures for over 18s and the present limit for all the items mentioned above is either 16 or 17 – so increases to 18 would not affect respondents. It may just be a case of pulling up the drawbridge after respondents themselves have crossed it – there was notably not much support for increased age limits amongst the 18-25s on things that presently have an age limit of 18. Standard political opinion polls do not include any respondents under the age of 18, so we don’t know whether those people who are still too young to drink or drive think there should be a lower limit. I suspect they might be more favourable towards it!

Overall there was broad support for increased age limits in most areas. The majority of people thought the age when people can get married should be raised to 18, with 22% favouring a limit of 21. 74% favoured an age limit above 16 for when people can join the army. Only 15% of people thought the current age limit for buying cigarettes was ideal, 48% said 18 and 22% said 21. 79% of people favoured a higher age limit to be able to drive, with 53% opting for 18 years. 49% of people favoured an increase in the age when people can buy fireworks.

There was broad support for the present age limit of 18 for buying alcohol, supported by 53% of respondents, though a substantial minority of 32% supported a limit of 21 years. The only area where there was any significant support for a reduction in age limits was participation in politics, but even then it was minor and outweighted by support for higher age limits. 15% of people favoured giving the vote to 16 year olds, with 3% saying the vote should be given at the age of 17. 20% of people, however, favouring a higher age limit than the present 18. 19% of people favoured an age limit on standing for Parliament lower than the present 21, but 50% of people favoured a limit above the current one.


I always urge some degree of caution on polls commissioned by pressure groups – not because any of the pollsters would willingly ask skewed questions, but because if pressure groups didn’t think they were going to get the answers they wanted they wouldn’t pay for or release the poll. It does cheer me up when a pressure group commissions a poll and gets an answer that obviously wasn’t the one they expected to get, especially when they have the guts to publish it anyway.

Theos, a new Christian think tank, heralded their launch by commissioning a poll from Communicate Research. They started by taking one of Richard Dawkins’ more confrontational statements and asking if people agreed with it: “Faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate”. Smallpox is obviously vastly unpleasant, evil is a harsh word, and as Matthew Parris noted in the Spectator last week, “faith” is a nice word, without the negative connetations of “religion”. Obviously people were going to think that “faith” was nicer than “smallpox”.

Rather surprisingly though, 42% of people said they agreed with Dawkins with only 44% disagreeing, much to the amusement of the British Humanist Association and Labour Humanists.

The rest of the survey found that 53% of people thought that, on balance, religion was a force for good in society, with 39% of people disagreeing. 58% of people though that Christianity has an important role to play in public life, with 37% disagreeing. On the latter question there was a very obvious age difference, the older respondents were the most likely they were to think that Christianity has a role in public life – 69% of over 65s agreed, with only 24% disagreeing. Amonst the youngest age group, under 25s, only 43% agreed with 52% disagreeing.

To Theos’s great credit they reported the first question along with the other results, the Telegraph’s reporting is rather less sound: the question that doesn’t fit with the story is only mentioned in the commentary to try and shoehorn in a trend of young people being less likely to agree with Dawkins that doesn’t actually exist (compare the first and last question. On whether Christianity should have a role in public life there is a strong and consistent trend -amongst every age group the younger you are the more likely you are to disagree with an almost as smooth trend on agreement, with only 35-44s slightly bucking the trend. The difference between under 25s and over 65s agreements is 26 points, a significant difference. On the Dawkins question the figures are up and down with no clear pattern and the difference between youngest and oldest is only 7 points, so not statistically significant).

UPDATE: For those who are interested, here is Richard Dawkins’s own response to the poll – “I am greatly encouraged by this poll. One of the commonest allegations hurled at me is that I am too intemperate, too extreme, too offensive about religion. But my remark about faith and the smallpox virus is just about the most extreme thing I have ever said. That’s as far as I have gone towards pushing the envelope. And now it turns out that 42% of the British people agree with it! It is not just that 42% don’t believe in God (that figure is presumably even higher). The amazing result is that 42% agree that “Faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate”. Doesn’t this indicate that our whole consciousness-raising effort is succeeding? Even though the poll was conducted only in Britain, we can quote the 42% British result again and again in further consciousness-raising in other countries. And don’t forget the important point that the poll was conducted by Theos, an organization that obviously neither wanted, nor expected to get this result.”

For the record the percentage of people that polls suggest do not believe in God isn’t higher than 42% despite the proportion who agreed with this question. The most recent polls I could find with a straight question were a Communicate Research one for the Evangelical Alliance and a YouGov one for the Telegraph. The results were very similar – Communicate found 45% of people believed in “God or a higher spiritual force” and 33% did not (the rest didn’t know), YouGov found 44% believed in God and 35% said no (again, the rest didn’t know).

Populus’s November poll gives the Conservatives a three point lead. The full topline figures, with changes from last month, are CON 36% (nc), LAB 33% (-2), LDEM 20% (+2). Populus polls generally report lower Conservative leads than the other main pollsters, but the trend reflects that in YouGov and ICM’s recent polls of Labour falling back again slightly, presumably as the boost they recieved after the party conference fades away.

The Times’ report comments on the gender gap emerging between men and women. The Conservative lead is larger amongst women than men (7 points compared to neck and neck) – it becomes startlingly so when respondents are asked how they would vote with Gordon Brown as leader – amongst women the Conservatives would lead by 12 points, amongst men Labour would lead by 3 points. Obviously gender breaks have half the sample size, and Populus do sometimes use a split sample to ask questions other than the main voting intention question, including the hypothetical questions on how people would vote with Brown as leader, so it might be worth checking the sample sizes for the crossbreaks. All the same, it seems like a striking gap.

The Conservative lead in the hypothetical how would you vote if Brown were Labour leader question is only 4 points, noticably down on previous such questions. The reason seem to be largely because the Liberal Democrats have performed much better in the question, when normally it sees them squeezed down to 15% or 16% (it is debatable whether this is an indication that a Brown vs Cameron contest actually would squeeze the Lib Dem vote, or just a result of the way the question is asked, possibly because of the effect of naming the party leaders).

Populus also found that 49% of respondents wanted an immediate inquiry into the Iraq war, with a further 34% supporting an inquiry after British troops have been withdrawn.

The latest Populus figures are coming up in the moment, but first here are the details of YouGov’s poll on the environment from Saturday’s Telegraph on global warming and climate change.

The overwhelming majority of people now believe that global warming is taking place – 85% agree with only 8% disagreeing and 7% saying don’t know. 79% of people think that global warming will accelerate in the next few decades unless something is done and 76% of people think those who draw attention to the issue of global warming and doing so for good reason, not being alarmist.

On the question of what should be done people are rather less certain. Only 38% of people say radical action must be taken immediately, more people (49%) would prefer to put off any radical action until we have a better understanding of climate change. Few of those people who think that action should be taken think it would be pain-free – only 27% think that, if action is taken quickly enough global warming can be curbed without damaging our standard of living. 45% think standards of living will have to rise more slowly, while 19% though the West would have to reduce it’s standard of living to curb global warming (if you look at the breaks is it not the case, as I thought it might be, that the people who want urgent action are the ones who think it will be painless. In fact, those who want urgent action are slightly more likely to think it will damage living standards).

Perhaps some of the reluctance to take immediate action is that few people think global warming will greatly disadvantage them personally. 32% of people think that global warming will make little differnece to them through the course of their life, 34% think it will make things a little worse and only 13% think it will make things a lot worse (surprisingly there is not a vast difference between age groups here. 12% of over 55s think it will make their life a lot worse, 15% of under 35s do). People are far more pessimistic when they think about their children and grandchildren – 48% think global warming will make their lives a lot worse.

Another reason is probably the lack of confidence in international co-operation on fighting global warming. People are reluctant to take action, because they don’t think other countries will do their bit. Very few (5%) people think Britain can make any significant contribution on her own, rather there needs to be action by nearly all the countries of the world. However, there is little confidence amongst the British public that such a thing is possible. Only 19% of people think the chances of the major energy using countries of the world coming together and agreeing on common measures are very good or fairly good. 76% think they are not very good or not at all good. Specifically, only 24% of people think that the USA would comply with any common measures agreed, and only 17% think China, India and Russia would.

On a more domestic level YouGov asked what steps people would personally be willing to take to cut their energy use, even without any financial incentives. The suggestion that met with most approval was improving home insulation, which 61% of people would be prepared to do (possibly because it has a direct benefit to people themselves as well as the environment, in having a warmer house and lower heating bills). Next most popular was changing shopping habits – 52% said they would be willing to buy more locally produced food and 51% would be prepared to try and buy more unpackaged food. People were less willing to do things that would directly limit their actions, such as take fewer holidays or flights (27%) or drive less (25%).

Asked about what the government would do, people were generally more positive about taxes that would not directly affect them, and more positive about taxes that discriminated against bad behaviour. In other words, environmental taxes on businesses were popular – 83% supported taxes on businesses that emitted greenhouse gases and 66% supported taxes on restaurants and businesses that produced a lot of waste. Taxes that only affected “bad” behaviour were popular – 72% supported extra tax on large executive and 4×4 cars, 42% supported higher council tax on houses that produced a lot of waste (47% opposed that, but 42% of people wanting any sort of increase in council tax is unusual in itself). In contrast increased tax on petrol was highly unpopular – 65% would oppose it. Once again, despite not discriminating and likely to affect many individuals, extra taxes on flights were narrowly approved of 46% to 40%.

The motoring taxes were interesting – there are often contradictory polls on whether or not people support extra environmental taxes. I’ve noted before that people seem to approve of extra taxes on flights, but not on cars. This poll adds an extra nuance. The majority of people don’t mind extra taxes on motoring, as long as they only effect large “gas guzzling” cars, in contrast the majority of people would be opposed to motoring taxes that effected everyone, such as an increase in fuel duty.

Finally YouGov asked which party would best handle the issue of global warming. The Conservatives lead on 14%, followed by Labour on 10% and the Lib Dems on 6%. 25% said none of them, 14% said all the parties equally.