Tory Party at prayer? Anglicans more likely to vote Conservative

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"The Tory Party at prayer" is an association proving hard to shift as a new study reveals that Anglicans are more likely to vote Conservative.

That is one of the findings in a new study by Theos, entitled "Voting and Values in Britain: Does religion count?", in which the link between religious affiliation and voting from 1950 to the present day is put under the microscope.

"For too long, the precise relationship between religious (and non-religious) commitment and political identity and values in Britain has been under-researched, the subject of claim, counter-claim and hyperbole," say the study's authors Ben Clements and Nick Spencer.

The study points out that the UK never developed a tradition of Christian Democracy of the kind seen in Europe because "by the time this happened in Europe, it already had three – Anglican Tory, Nonconformist Liberal, and Nonconformist and Catholic Labour."

With some exceptions, this pattern persists today. Self-identifying Anglicans traditionally vote Conservative more often than Labour, the exceptions being 1966 and 1997. In 2010, they were nearly twice as likely to vote Conservative as Catholics.

This trend increases with frequency of church attendance, demonstrating that nominal Anglicanism is less Conservative than practising Anglicanism.

Since 1959, self-identifying Catholics have mostly voted Labour, often by wide margins, and have shown less support for smaller, third parties than other denominations. This trend seemed unaffected by church attendance.

Non-conformists and independent churches and Christians have shown what the study calls greater "fluidity" when it comes to voting, with marginally stronger support for third parties.

Non-Christian groups' voting patterns were also examined, although because of the smaller sample size, the study states that any conclusions should be viewed with "caution".

In 2010, the Buddhist vote was disproportionately for the Liberal Democrats, while the Muslim vote was mostly Labour, and the Jewish community leaned strongly towards the Conservatives.

The Sikh vote was split evenly between Labour and the Conservatives, while Hindus leaned towards Labour, but were more evenly split in 2010 compared to previous years.

The voting preferences of those who profess no religious belief were also examined, and while there were also very fluctuating trends, it was found that they generally favoured Conservatives less, and third parties more.

Anglicans and Catholics also follow the national pattern of women being more likely to vote Conservative than men, but this trend is bucked by other religious groups. The non-religious do not see the same kind of predictable gender divide emerge.

When surveyed on the issues, there was wide agreement in the 2010 election. All religious groups put the economy in first place, with immigration and the budget deficit close behind.

There was some disagreement on the issue that came after that, with consumer debt and unemployment jostling for position. The traditional religious "values issues" emerging in US elections - abortion, gay marriage - are largely absent from UK elections.

On the issue of the welfare state, the general rule was that Anglicans were less supportive, while Catholics were more so.

Interestingly, the more people attended any religious group, the more likely they were to support welfare.

Those who had higher attendance were more likely to believe that "the creation of the welfare state is one of Britain's proudest achievements", and they are happier to accept increased government spending on welfare, even if it meant higher taxes.

They were also less likely to believe claims of wide scale welfare fraud, and disagreed with the claim that most welfare claimants could find a job if they really wanted to. They tended to believe that cutting welfare would damage too many people's lives.

Those who did not attend religious services were more likely to be on the political left, but were not necessarily more supportive of tax-and-spend policies than any other group.

On the authoritarian-libertarian scale, there are minor differences, with Anglicans being the most authoritarian, although they have resisted the trend towards increased authoritarianism in the general population in the last 10 years.

The one issue that there was consensus on across all religions was censorship, which religious groups were consistently more in favour of than the non-religious.

Nick Spencer, Theos' Research Director and co-author of the report said: "Every five years or so, someone claims that this or that religious (or non-religious group) might swing the election. Politics isn't like that, however, and this report shows that religious block votes do not exist in Britain as many claim they do in America.

"It does show, however, that there are clear and significant alignments between various religious and political camps, of which politicians should be aware.

"At a time when mass party membership, political ideology and party tribalism are at a low ebb, we should pay attention to the big political values that shape our voting behaviour."

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