Judging by twitter Prof Richard Dawkins was his usual emollient and self-deprecating self on Radio 4 this morning promoting the results of a new Ipsos-MORI poll commissioned by his Foundation for Research and Science. I didn’t hear it myself so I won’t comment, but what of the poll itself?

The poll was conducted straight after the census last year (why they’ve held it back till now I do not know), and sought to identify people who described themselves as Christian in the census and measure in more detail what their actual religious beliefs were. Unsurprisingly it found they were not universally very religious. In many ways, this is an obvious finding. In the 2001 census 72% of so of people said they were Christian, but we know from survey data and church census data that most of these people don’t go to church, and from many other surveys that at least some of them don’t believe in a god. I wrote about it in more detail back in 2007 here.

Turning to the new survey, first off it projected that 54% of people had described themselves as Christian on the 2011 census. This would be a very significant fall on 2001 if it was the case, but it’s probably worth waiting to see what the actual census figures are before getting all excited about it. People answer censuses very differently to polls and the survey’s projection may end up being wrong.

Moving on the survey contains all sorts of stuff about whether people who put Christian on the census believe in ghosts and astrology, or whether they know which books of the Bible come first and similar stuff which the press release from the RDFRS gets excited about, but basically it boils down to what we already know – some of the people who put Christian on census forms would not be Christian by some other definitions.

Cutting through the chaff on this the best questions to actually illustrate this are these:

– Q16 on whether people believe in God. Of those who put Christian on the census form 54% believe in a personal God, 10% don’t believe in a god, but think there is some sort of supernatural intelligence out there, 22% believe in God as being the laws of nature or the cause of the universe, 6% don’t believe in any sort of God.

– Q11 asked people who put Christian on the census form to define their religious views – 30% said they had strong religious beliefs and were Christian, 48% said they did not have strong religious beliefs, but thought of themselves as Christian or had been brought up to do so, 12% didn’t consider themselves religious at all, 8% thought they were spiritual rather than religious. Further on a question asks directly if people consider themselves to be religious or not – 45% say they do, 50% say they do not.

– Q24 & Q25 asked about some of the core beliefs of Christianity – Jesus being the son of God who was resurrected after being crucified. 32% believed in Jesus’s physical resurrection, 39% that he was resurrected spiritually but not physically, 18% that he wasn’t resurrected at all. 44% believed that Jesus was the Son of God, 32% that he was a good role model, 13% that he was just a man. Again, percentages are of people who put Christian on the census form, not the GB population overall.

Exactly how one defines what constitutes a Christian is an unanswerable question – you may equally well define being Christian as what people believe or by how they define themselves. What we can say with some certainty is that a fair proportion of people who put Christian on the census form don’t believe in a personal God, don’t consider themselves to be religious or don’t believe in some of the core tenets of Christianity.

This means that while there are other interesting questions on the poll, one can’t really use them to say X percentage of British Christians think this or that, because it is impossible to define British Christians. If one defines them as people who put Christian on the census form then you’d find only 54% believe in a personal God. If you define them as people who attend church at least once a month I expect you’d find the vast majority believe in a personal God. This is the difficulty of saying anything about ill-defined populations.

At the end of the day a lot of the survey and the PR around it seems to be aimed at knocking down the strawman argument that all those who put Christian on the census are devout, church attending, bible believing Christians when it is fairly clear from the outset that they are not. That’s not to say that the strawman argument of 72% of people are Christians so you should do this hasn’t actually cropped up in the political debate before – it has, and I’m sure it will continue to do so in the future.

There is a new YouGov/Evening Standard poll of voting intentions in London. First round intentions with changes from a month ago stand at JOHNSON 46%(+2), LIVINGSTONE 45%(-1), PADDICK 6%(-1), Others 3%. On a forced choice between Ken and Boris, Boris leads by 51% to 49%, a reverse of last month’s figures.

While technically Boris has retaken the lead from Ken, all the changes are within the margin of error and the two main candidates are essentially neck-and-neck.

Most of the other questions in the poll showed little movement from a month ago, though there was a good reception for Ken’s policy of cutting fares by 7%. Improving transport was, along with crime, seen as the most important issue facing the capital and 68% said they supported Ken’s policy. What probably limits its cut through is that people were far more divided over whether it was actually deliverable – 44% thought Ken would actually do it, 40% thought he wouldn’t.

Westminster voting intentions in London are CON 35%(+1), LAB 47%(-2), LDEM 9%(+1). This represents a slight drop in Labour’s lead in London, but they are still doing slightly better in London than elsewhere in the country; these figures represent a 5 point swing to Labour, compared to an average of a 4 point swing in Great Britain as a whole.

Full tabs are here


Full tabs for the YouGov/Sunday Times survey are now up here. On the leader trackers all three are up very slightly, Cameron on minus 4 (from minus 6 last week, Miliband on minus 41 (from minus 45 last week), Clegg on minus 45 (from minus 47 last week).

It almost goes without saying that the economic trackers remain dire. YouGov’s semi-regular question on economic policy – basically “stick with cutting the deficit” or “borrow more to encourage growth” shows people evenly split, 36% to 36%. On quantitative easing, 34% of people said they supported more, 29% opposed it – but the largest chunk of people (38%) said don’t know. This isn’t particularly surprising, I think it’s something that it too complex for most people to have strong views upon.

Turning to the NHS, Ed Miliband has a narrow lead over David Cameron as the most trusted leader on the NHS, by 26% to 22%. 37% of respondents, however, say they don’t trust any of the main party leaders on the NHS.

On the NHS policy itself, 18% say they support it, 48% are opposed, 34% don’t know (suggesting that, understandably, a large chunk of people still don’t have much idea what the reforms consist of). There is little faith that the principles behind the bill would improve the health service – only 19% think more competition would improve services with 49% thinking it will make them worse; only 26% think giving doctors more control over their budgets would improve services, 41% think it would make them worse. Overall, 50% of people think that the government should abandon the reforms, 23% think they should continue.

On Syria, there is broad support for non-military action, such as economic sanctions (supported by 60%) or a travel ban on members of the Syrian regime (supported by 66%), but very little support for any military engagement. Only 17% would support giving arms to the rebels or sending troops to protect civilians. Just 8% would support sending in troops to overthrow al-Assad.

Turning to Abu Qatada, on principle 70% of people think he should be deported regardless of whether he would get a fair trial abroad compared to 20% who think he should only be deported if a fair trial can be guaranteed. When asked about the ECHR ruling, 54% think it should be ignored, compared to 33% who think we should negotiate with Jordan in order to get assurances that torture would not be used so that he can be deported.

Finally there were some questions on the England football team – amongst those interested in football 66% thought that stripping Terry of the captaincy was the correct decision, but a similar proportion also thought that it was wrong for the FA to do so without consulting Capello. Hence 63% think Capello was right to resign (so essentially, people think that Capello was right to resign over having his wrong decision overruled!). As expected, Harry Redknapp has a strong lead as the preferred successor to Capello.

Tonight’s YouGov poll for the Sunday Times has topline figures of CON 38%, LAB 39%, LDEM 9%. The underlying picture still seems to be very much one of Labour and the Conservatives neck-and-neck, with Labour perhaps slightly ahead. I’ll do a fuller update tomorrow when the tables are published.

Tonight’s YouGov poll has topline figures of CON 40%, LAB 38%, LDEM 10% – full tabs here. This certainly suggests that the five point Labour lead yesterday was indeed an outlier, and that the underlying picture remains the same old neck-and-neck position between Labour and Conservatives.