The more simple a polling question is, the more intelligible it is likely to be. But an intelligible question doesn’t necessarily yield straightforward answers – and so it has proved in some cases with our special survey on politicians and religion, in the wake of David Cameron’s recent Church Times article. We reproduced three of its main statements –
- “We should be more confident about our status as a Christian country”;
- “We should more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations”;
- “We should be more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives”
– and asked readers whether politicians should do God; whether Britain is or should be a Christian country, and whether the role of faith-based organisations should or should not be expanded. Let’s start with that last question. It divided Party members. Ten per cent of them said they didn’t know, and of those who took a view the result was as follows:
- The role of faith-based organisations should be expanded- 48 per cent.
- The role of faith-based organisations should not be expanded – 42 per cent.
It may well be that if we had asked whether the role of church-based organisations should be expanded the vote for an expanded role would have been larger – because, as we will see, the poll showed some support for the churches. But we thought it best to reproduce Cameron’s own words. At any rate, it’s clear that a majority of Party members want politicians to “do God” –
- Politicians should “do God” – 61 per cent.
- Politicians shouldn’t “do God – 29 per cent.
That left ten per cent not knowing. “Doing God” has several possible meanings. One is that politicians should encourage the churches or other faith communities or both to play a more prominent role in the public square. But the lower levels of support for this suggest a more simple reading among most Party members – that they think that politicians should speak about their faith if they have one. Here they are on whether Britain is or is not a Christian country:
- Britain is a Christian country: 85 per cent.
- Britain is not a Christian country: 12 per cent.
That answer squeezed the Don’t Knows down to a mere three per cent. It is reasonable to suppose that by “a Christian country” Party members meant not a nation of people who are mostly practising Christians or frequent churchgoers, but one that is Christian in historical, constitutional and (to a significant degree) in cultural terms. Here they are on whether Britain should be a Christian country:
- Britain should be a Christian country: 86 per cent.
- Britain should not be a Christian country: 11 per cent.
So much for any suspicion that a significant proportion of Party members want to junk Britain’s Christian heritage. They may not go to church, but want churches to stand and the country’s inheritance to endure. I think of Philip Larkin’s Church Going: “A serious house on serious earth it is,/In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,/ Are recognised, and robed as destinies…”
All in all, Cameron clearly has a majority of Party members’ support for doing God. Perhaps that is not surprising. This is a conservative party, after all – with a small c as well as a large one.
The responses of non-Party members to the survey differed little from Party member ones. (Support for a expansion of the role of faith-based organisations hit the 50 per cent mark.)
Almost 800 Party members responded to the survey. The results are tested against a control panel which was supplied by YouGov.