Sunday Opening

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.

A new Populus poll on religious and faith issues is being published in the Sun this week – links to the Sun die very quickly, so I can’t offer you a link.

70% of people told Populus they believed in God or some form of higher power. This is quite a high figure, probably because people were offered the option of some alternate sort of higher power. Most similar surveys have asked specifically if people believe in “God” and have shown lower levels of belief – in August 2003 60% of people told MORI they believed in God and in April 2000 62% told ORB they believed in God, that said, on the eve of the (not the actual) millenium MORI also found 70% of people saying they believed in God.

In contrast YouGov find far lower levels of belief – perhaps because they are self-completed and even in a relatively secular age people are unwilling to admit to a complete lack of faith – in December 2004 only 44% told YouGov they believed in God, compared to 35% who didn’t (the difference is partially down to don’t knows. Most of the other polls found about 10% of people who said don’t know. YouGov found double that).

Returning to the Populus/Sun poll, 53% of people said they believed in an afterlife, compared with 35% who disagreed. Again, this is broadly in line with other surveys. MORI’s 2003 survey found 47% of people believed in an afterlife, although the contrast with online polls is far less obvious here – 43% of people told YouGov in 2004 they believed in an afterlife.

44% of people told Populus they thought it was important for a political leader to have strong religious belief, 53% disagreed (for the record, Tony Blair is known to be a practicing Christian who regularly attends church, Michael Howard attends a Liberal Synagogue on the High Holy feast days – not that it matters anyway, since neither of them will be leader of their respective parties by the time of the next election).

62% of people said they considered it important that children were raised with a belief in God, 36% disagreed. 29% of people believe in the devil, 69% do not. 71% believe in the soul. 86% of people regarded adultery as sinful, 91% regarded stealing as sinful and 66% regarding lying as sinful.

Populus also asked several questions not directly connected to religion, but which can be regarded as moral issues. 66% of people supported voluntary euthanasia, compared to 26% against. 61% supported the death penalty for certain (unspecified) categories of murder, 35% were opposed and the Dulce et Decorum est question (though since it was a poll for the Sun, it obviously didn’t use the latin), 35% said they would willingly lay down their lives to fight for their country. This compares with 51% who would lay down their lives to fight for their beliefs, and 96% who would lay down their lives to protect their loved ones.

Finally, moving away from Christianity to more exotic beliefs, 67% of people say they have more faith in astrology than organised religion. It’s difficult to know what to make of that – is it a sign that people take astrology seriously, or a sign they don’t respect organised religion? Going back to MORI’s 2003 poll only 33% of people believed in astrology, suggesting it is more the latter.

43% of people believe they have contacted, or been contacted by the dead . 32% of people believe in karma – though this was heavily tilted by age – over 40% of under 65s believe in karma but only 14% of over 65s do. 34% of people believe in ghosts, 37% believe in “restless spirits”, 9% believe in magic. Interestingly there is quite a strong gender bias amongst “alternative” beliefs, in almost every case more women believe than do men. Equally, younger people are far more likely to believe in these sorts of concepts than the over 65s. To give an example, 40% of women think you can contact the dead, only 24% of men do. 44% of under-25s think you can, 16% of over 65s do.

Finally, 3% of people believe in vampires. If the poll is correct (and in most polls you do get a small proportion of people who give downright silly answers), that would equate to over a million people. Still, it could be worse, back in 1999 MORI found that 15% of over 18s believed in Santa Claus. Well, it was a week before Christmas, let’s just hope they were getting into the festive spirit!


There is a new MORI poll in today’s Sun on the EU constitution – the first question asked was the exact wording of the government’s proposed referendum – “Should the United Kingdom approve the treaty establishing a constitution for the European Union?”. In past surveys, using the straight question without any accompanying blurb has tended to produce the lowest No vote, in one case showing only a 2 point lead for the No campaign. In the aftermath of the French referendum though MORI has found a 34 point lead for the No camp – Yes 22%, No 56%.

However, a large majority of people (67% to only 21% against) still want to have a referendum on the EU constitution regardless of whether or not other countries have already rejected the treaty.

MORI also asked about people’s reactions to the French result 55% said they were pleased, with 19% sorry. 23% of people though the French government should hold a second referendum to try and reverse the result, with 65% opposing such a move.