What do the religious think about key election issues?

13 June 2024

Chine McDonald, Director, Theos writes in the Theos June Newsletter:

This week, political parties have been unveiling manifestos and giving us a flavour of who they are, what they believe, and what they might do if they are in power on 5th July. 

In the seemingly endless rounds of election debates and interviews on the campaign trail, the priority issues the British public want to hear about are clear. Consistently over the past year, opinion polling has found that the top three most important issues facing the country are the economy/cost of living, the NHS and immigration – followed by the environment and housing. It’s pretty difficult to find much consensus after that.  

I did a few double takes when reading through our latest polling data unpacking religion and voting, which is out today. Perhaps I had fallen into the trap of pre-empting what the data might show about what Christians believe about these priority issues, particularly on immigration. 

When it came to the types of immigrant, broadly the British public are least sympathetic to asylum seekers and think that fewer should be allowed to enter the UK. What perhaps might be surprising in a media landscape that likes to caricature senior Anglican clergy as ‘woke’ and in which the Archbishop of Canterbury’s interventions on the Rwanda policy proved so controversial, is that Anglicans were the most unsympathetic towards asylum seekers. They were less sympathetic than Catholics, ‘Other’ Christians, and the non-religious. 

Muslims were more open than Christians and the general public to asylum seekers, though still ambivalent rather than enthusiastic. They were also the most supportive of increased migration for family reunification, compared to uncertainty towards this among the general public. Anglicans again were the least supportive. 

Now, it got a little more interesting when we dug down further into the religious categories. There is a significant difference between those who practise their religion regularly (as in, they regularly attend church), and those who would describe themselves as Christian, but who would rarely – or ever – attend a church service. Anglicans were less hostile to asylum seekers if they were actually practising Christians. Never-practising Christians were more hostile to asylum seekers than the general population, while frequently practising Christians (except for Anglicans) were generally more welcoming of asylum seekers when compared to the population as a whole. 

All of this got me thinking about the ways in which we are formed and shaped, and reminded me that Christians don’t all agree on how to navigate life and create environments for human flourishing.  If a Christian attends church regularly, what might they be hearing both from the pulpit and from those within their faith community that might influence their attitudes on topics like immigration, or the economy, or the NHS? In addition, churches are some of the very few multicultural places in which people might actually hang out with, eat with, and talk to immigrants.  If someone self-defines as Christian, but does not engage with the Christian community, what are the things that might be filling a church-shaped vacuum – both in terms of community and formation – in their lives? What shapes their thinking about immigration? 

Whoever we are, we’re shaped by a variety of different cultural, educational, economic, geographic and religious factors.  I’m struck by how much all of us are shaped by the media we consume – or don’t; by the narratives in circulation about certain aspects of our society – whether the EU or asylum seekers or Muslims or millennials. These are constantly changing depending on the political questions of the day. 

At least – I think – when it comes to the Christian faith, there is an attempt to wrestle with something more lasting – to find deeper truths about what it is to be human in the pages of scripture. In this political moment, when so much seems up for grabs, and in which it feels like we might see the world very differently from our neighbours – whether they are in the pews next to us, or living on our street – Christians may not all come to the same conclusion, but let’s hope we’ll at least have made an attempt. 

Post expires on August 19th, 2024

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