New polls show Britain becoming more liberal


4:33 pm - December 16th 2009

by Unity    


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January 2010 sees the publication of the result of the National Centre for Social Research’s 26th British Social Attitudes study.

As a bit of teaser for the main report, NatCen has released a snapshot of this year’s findings which makes for very interesting reading – or should that be depressing reading, if you happen to be a social conservative.

As a confirmed secularist one of the more cheering aspects of the study’s findings is that religious belief is declining rapidly. In 1983, only 34% said that they did not belong to any religion. In the new study that’s risen to 46% and the study appears to support the view that the decline in the prevalence of religious belief is primarily a function of generational changes in attitudes:

These changes reflect deep-rooted differences between the generations, with older generations (who are the most religious) dying out and being replaced by younger (less religious) ones.

This doesn’t appear to indicate a corresponding rise in number of people who identify themselves as atheists, although it appear that membership of no-god squad now exceeds the number of people who are certain that god exists, although the figures given by Andrew Brown seem to be a bit garbled.

Having given the figures for non-believers and people who have no doubts about the existence of their favourite sky-fairy as being 18% and 17% respectively, Brown goes on to note that:

If you ask whether people believe in God, identify with a religion and attend services, the figure in Britain is only 25%, as opposed to the 31% who do none of these things…

Which seems to indicate that 31% of people do not believe in god, in addition to not identifying with a religion and not attending services.

As Terry Jones noted, when talking about the furore that surrounded the original release of ‘The Life of Brian’, the Python’s found it impossible to take the piss out of the Biblical character of Jesus and the central moral content of the gospels precisely because it does contain a solid core of sound moral philosophy that  stands up independently of any appeals to supernatural authority.

Elsewhere in the study it appears that the British population continues to become more liberal in its outlook on a range of moral and social issues.

The number of people who said that they absolutely or mostly disapprove of sex before marriage fell from 28% in 1983 to only 11% today, although its not clear as yet how many answered that question by cracking gags like ‘only if the bridesmaid isn’t up for it’ or ‘only if it holds up the ceremony’.

Attitudes towards the gay community are also improving. In 1983, 62% said that they thought that sexual relations between adults of the same sex were wrong.

Today that figure has fallen to 34% and if, as the evidence for religious belief suggests, difference in attitudes between generations account for most of the change then, even though its not as good as it might be, there’s probably nothing much that couldn’t be quickly sorted out with a decent flu pandemic.

The study also confirms that support for abortion rights is solid, even in the face of the recent, and massively dishonest, anti-abortion campaigns mounted by the Christian Taliban and its fellow travellers (Nadine Dorries). Support for the proposition that a woman who decides herself that she does not want a child should be allowed to have an abortion has risen from 37% in 1983 to 60% today.

Most of the studies main findings are hardly novel or surprising. Young people are more liberal in their outlook than older people and graduates are both more liberal and more likely to interested in and/or engaged in politics than non-graduates.

Education is a truly a wonderful thing, and all more so, from where I’m sitting, for the fact that it seems likely to bode ill for the long-term prospects of the Daily Mail.

Having cracked the half-life gag earlier, I did wonder whether it might be possible to make a similar inference about the currrent readership of the Daily Mail and work out what their half-life might be…

…then I remembered what the comments are like over at the Mail’s site and realised that a half-life in just their normal state of being.

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About the author
'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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Reader comments


“I did wonder whether it might be possible to make a similar inference about the currrent readership of the Daily Mail and work out what their half-life might be…”

Most of them are already dead, but no-one has the decency to tell them that.

“If there’s one key thing to be taken from the evidence provided by the survey then it relates to the topical question of how and and on what terms religious organisations can legitimately engage with the rest of the public sphere, where it emphasises the point that “because god/the Bible/the Koran/pick any deity or holy book you like says so” is a crap argument that no longer holds water with what will, very shortly, become the majority of the British population.”

Great, so minority views are now illegitimate. Oh, and lol, Daily Mail joke.

“Education is a truly a wonderful thing, and all more so, from where I’m sitting, for the fact that it seems likely to bode ill for the long-term prospects of the Daily Mai”

Isn’t the Mail the only newspaper that has seen its sales increase recently?

is a crap argument that no longer holds water with what will, very shortly, become the majority of the British population

I think that has been the case for a long time now – what you do have is those who believe otherwise shouting the loudest and following it up with evidence from the Mail and/or Murdoch press.

What is needed now, and has been for 12y, 3mts, 22 dys is a Liberal government to represent the people who are in the majority. That doesn’t necessarily mean the LibDems, though they should be given a chance, it could be a real Labour government – where did they go?

5. CharlieMcMenamin

I’m not sure the snapshot findings you link too do unambiguously show news that would be depressing to a social conservative. The link says,

“Our feelings about welfare recipients are very different now to the 1980s. The possible causes? Until recently, unemployment was less of an issue over the last two decades, and people tend to be less sympathetic on these issues during times of low unemployment. But this is not the whole story. The public also seem to have shifted their views in line with the changing messages sent out by different political parties about welfare support from the state.”

I’m not a social conservative and this really, really depresses me.

It is obviously very good that people are not as prejudiced against gays etc as they used to be. But is this because people are becoming more liberal (more tolerant, more… indifferent?), or because they are becoming more thoughtful and caring? I hope it is because of the latter.
Liberality points toward societal disintegration. A mroe caring society, more capacity to think and imagine yourself into the shoes of others, points toward societal integreation.
You can see where I am going with this… I strongly welcome the support for gay rights, and for abortion rights; but I hope that in an important sense this does NOT mean that Britain is becoming a more liberal society. A society that leaves people free to do whatever they want so long as it doesn’t directly harm other autonomous people. Because that way lies nemesis. For society, and the ecosystem…
And that brings me to religion. I find Unity’s preconception that we ought to welcome the reduction in religious belief unwelcome. I worry that what this reduction actually involves is a rise in materialism, and a drop in community engagement, in fact less of most of the things we actually need…
Religions such as (to take a few for instances) Quakerism, major forms of Buddhism, much of the C of E nowadays, liberation theology, Gandhian Hinduism, Creation Spirituality, the ‘Creation Care’ movement, the Mennonites, the Catholic Worker movement, the Bruderhof, and much paganism… Progressives and those who care about caring ought not to wish these groups away.
So: I hope the conspiracy is working, as it were – it looks like it is. But I hope that ‘it’ isn’t …liberal…
What we actually need is a genuinely communitarian and egalitarian conspiracy. And real communities welcome positive, caring, life-affirming religious organisations.

Good comment Jim, you made me snort out loud…in a comedy way.

This article made my day.

‘Great, so minority views are now illegitimate.’

Minority views that are arise from evidence, rational argument and a sense of common humanity are entirely legitimate; not so those that depend upon the authority of Bronze Aged texts and their interpretation by racists, misogynists, homophobes, terrorists or kiddie fiddlers.

It’s the 21st Century, GOD SAYS SO is not an arguement.

‘You can see where I am going with this…’

Towards some authoritarian quasi-mystical eco-bollocks on past experience.

‘I strongly welcome the support for gay rights, and for abortion rights; but I hope that in an important sense this does NOT mean that Britain is becoming a more liberal society. A society that leaves people free to do whatever they want so long as it doesn’t directly harm other autonomous people. Because that way lies nemesis. For society, and the ecosystem…’

Thought so.

‘I find Unity’s preconception that we ought to welcome the reduction in religious belief unwelcome. I worry that what this reduction actually involves is a rise in materialism, and a drop in community engagement, in fact less of most of the things we actually need…’

It doesn’t follow that community engagement falls because of a lack of religion; on the contrary it is easier to engage with the community if this engagement is not mediated through men in frocks who have voluntarily disengaged from the community in order to speek on behalf of the sky pixie.

Hi,

I havn’t seen anything in the press on anti-abortion, and a quick google doesn’t bring up anything conclusive. I’m interested. Could you point me in the right direction please.

Thanks
Steve

It’s disgusting that if you want to read the full report you have to pay 50 quid for it. I paid for this with my taxes; why the fuck should I have to pay again?

@6. Rupert are you sure you are a Green? PB401 The Green Party affirms the importance of individual freedom and self expression. We believe people should be free to make their own decisions on matters which do not adversely affect others. Its importance lies in valuing the opportunity people have to make their own decisions, accept responsibility for them and develop in their own way.

It’s a bit of a leap of logic to say that fewer people following an establised religion, higher tolerance of gays and support for abortion necessarily equals a more liberal society isn’t it ? I would tick at least 2 of those boxes (3 on a good day) and yet according to the liberati on LC I’m variously described as a brownshirt, a conservative or a reactionary

Even if you’ve all got me personally wrong, in roughly the same period we’ve had the growth of CCTV, the database state and increasing amounts of legislation, regulation and restriction on individuals liberties. In the past decade the amount of liberty which I personally and subjectively experienced has decreased massively, and people generaly are massively less tolerant than they used to be. That’s what I care about, not mass surveys (which are notoriously prone to experimeter effects) on subjects which have little real effect on the majority of people.

14. Ken McKenzie

@11

No, you didn’t.

NatCen are a not-for-profit independent research organisation who sell reports like this to cover their costs.

It’s difficult to tell without access to the full report, but it may be that what is happening with religion is not that there are fewer people who are religious but that there are fewer people who lie about being religious. That, from a devout Christian point of view, is something to be welcomed.

The recent stats I’ve seen show only a slight decrease in church attendance, with a massive Anglican drop-off compensated by a rise in evangelical attendance, especially in majority-black churches. What seems to be the case is that fewer people are identifying as Christian by default just by virtue of being “in a Christian country” but who never go to church or exhibit other signs of faith.

Wonderful news (but hardly unexpected) on the abortion & LGBT fronts.

These changes reflect deep-rooted differences between the generations, with older generations (who are the most religious) dying out and being replaced by younger (less religious) ones.

Since the mainstream denominations are, if anything, even more liberal than the general population, it’s hard to see how a decrease in the membership of such denominations can be claimed to be at the root of increasing liberalisation.

It is not lack of religion that shapes attitudes but the social conditioning that individuals experience as they are processed through the ‘educational’ system. After almost half a century of intensive Gramscian cultural marxism and incessant related propaganda the surprising finding is that as many as as a third of the population have so far managed to evade taking on the ‘correct’ memetics.

“Minority views that are arise from evidence, rational argument and a sense of common humanity are entirely legitimate”

Surely we all accept universal human rights. But show me evidence that universal human rights exist. Belief in each of those is simply a belief, but you wouldn’t shut people up for espousing those, presumably because you agree with their beliefs. I propose that your intellectual integrity is weak.

“there’s probably nothing much that couldn’t be quickly sorted out with a decent flu pandemic.”

I missed this on first reading the article. It would be good if lots of people among a specific demographic of my compatriots died so that average support for my political agenda can increase. Did the author support Milosevic, by any chance?

Of course part of the adverse reaction to the Life of Brian was the Orthodox Jews getting upset about that prop that turned out to be a prayer shawl at that stoning. And I think we can be pretty sure that would happen again today. For all that wishy-washy Anglican Britain has gone liberal (thank non-existent supreme being), today’s Supreme Court case shows that this isn’t the case for other religions, even those (like Judaism) that have seen a significant number of adherents in Britain for some centuries. More still needs to be done to prevent the indoctrination of children by fundamentalists.

Did the author support Milosevic, by any chance?

No, the author (me) just has a very dark sense of humour…

The pandemic gag can be applied to any number of scenarios – pensions is always a good one – but in this context its merely a wry reference to an ongoing process of social change.

What seems to be the case is that fewer people are identifying as Christian by default just by virtue of being “in a Christian country” but who never go to church or exhibit other signs of faith.

I think you’re probably right and that much of the change does stem from people being less inclined to define themselves as, in particular, CofE as a simple default position.

21. Public School Lefty

Here is Public School Lefty’s recipe for a tolerant liberal society:

Shout in a loud voice at all these chav types particularly DM readers.

Make sure their daughters have plentiful access to abortions and MA pills to stop em breeding.

Get them all on benefits or in the public sector so it’s not in their interests to kick up rough (very important that).

Generally mock said chavs by ridiculing their ancestry and feelings of worth and identity, except (equally important) when they’re being sent out as cannon fodder to some third world hellhole to protect our liberal way of life.

Have a good sneer at them for stupidly going where no liberal would dare.

Ban Christmas.

Feel good about oneself.

One always does.

Trying not to rise to the bait, but surely “chav” is an insult thrown about more by Daily Mail readers at Daily Mirror readers than Guardian readers at Daily Mail readers?

I found disturbing the glee with which you celebrated the more liberal attitudes that are now more prevalent in society. Indeed the title in the URL for the blog is “looks like the conspiracy is working just fine”. What conspiracy is that Unity?

You then go on to refer to God as a “sky fairy”, and when referring to the 34% who still think homosexual relations are wrong your answer is that a good flu pandemic would sort that out. For liberals who claim to love peace, the blood spills over your lip at the thought of certain peoples with certain ideologies being wiped out.

Then there’s the bad attempt at humour concerning the 11% who still oppose pre-marital sex. The writer finds that hard to believe and suggests that in reality most of them only oppose it if there is some biological reason; or that it would make the ceremony longer which presumably would prevent people from getting to the bar sooner or checking the latest football scores.

Finally there is the reference to Daily Mail readers and their half life which didn’t quite make sense because there was no previous reference as claimed, but its clear that you not only dislike Mail readers but liken them to some kind of lower life form.

The seething hatred in many liberal writers seeps through the mask of delusion. The one that says – we just want the world to be a better place where everybody can just get along and live the way they want to live – which is in fact a big lie. The liberal outlook for a better world includes the complete eradication of those who oppose their policies. As Copenhagen demonstrations have indeed demonstrated they only believe in democracy as long as it yields what they believe in. As soon as it doesn’t they try to take over by force, defying police lines, breaching security, climbing on other peoples cars with no regard for the damage they are doing. All because they can’t get there own way.

This kind of behaviour is like children in a pram. Wah wah wah! I can’t get my own way so I’m going to stomp and shout and scream, generally becoming obnoxious until I do. When success is gleaned they walk around with Cheshire cat grins proud of their manipulative accomplishments. The smile belies a pride that suffocates the guilt of how they have reached their goal.

Grow up Unity, and learn tolerance, to accept people you disagree with, not just despise them.

If 25% still identify with a religion, believe in God and attend church services, that surely makes ‘churchgoers’ a pretty significant group in society. As big a proportion of the population as supports the Labour Party according to some recent polls.

#23

I’d like to know your rationale for why 11% of people oppose pre-marital sex, but a whopping 34% say sex between two men or two women is wrong. I cannot fathom any rationale but prejudice for the huge difference between these two numbers.

The rationale cannot have anything to do with religion (at least not Christian religion), because there is far more biblical evidence to suggest people should get married* than to say that homosexuality is wrong.

* although we can argue about the nature of what marriage is in this context: personally I would say it’s a public witness of a religious commitment between 2 people and God, but not necessarily a legal institution sanctioned by the state. Christian marriage could as easily be two people praying that they were committing themselves to share their lives together, then e-mailing their friends telling them that’s what they’d done, as a ceremony with pomp and circumstance.

Kath:
Yes, I’m a Green. But I don’t agree with PB401 as it is currently worded. There is a problem with Green Party philosophy as it currently stands: the Party is trying to base itself on liberal, communitarian, and ecological values, simultaneously. But actually, there are some hard political choices that need to be made between these values. You can’t satisfy all of the people all of the time. e.g. Consumerism is an apogee of liberalism – but not of being Green.

Hermeneticals:

Quick suggestion here, if you ever get around to signing up with a dating website, don’t bother using the acronym GSOH.

Hermeneticals,

God is a ‘sky fairy’

Homosexual relations are up to the people involved.

Pre marital sex is probably a good thing.

Getting to the bar is OK. Checking your football coupon is OK too.

Daily Mail readers are nuts.

Seething hatred for the opposition is something we learned from Mary Whitehouse.

Just saying.

There’s nothing particularly surprising about any of the quoted figures. I will always be amused at the weird results you get when you ask British people about religion (this goes back to the 1940’s, at least).

More interesting than a comparision to 1983 (so society is more individualistic now than it was back then. Such a surprise.) would be comparison to a a few years ago – you know, to see how attitudes have changed (or not) since the bubble burst.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Claire Butler

    Hahaha! – RT @libcon Looks like the conspiracy is working just fine… http://bit.ly/6XAOX4

  2. S Smith

    New polls show Britain becoming more liberal:
    http://www.liberalconspiracy.org/2009/12/16/looks-like-the-conspiracy-is-working-just-fine/

  3. Liberal Conspiracy

    :: Looks like the conspiracy is working just fine… http://bit.ly/6LWdpu

  4. uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by libcon: :: Looks like the conspiracy is working just fine… http://bit.ly/6LWdpu

  5. A good day for the Enlightenment | www.the-vibe.co.uk

    […] it is pleasing to see some signs of old-fashioned progress, suggested by the recent ‘snapshot‘ of the British Social Attitudes Survey. This study, tracking the opinions of British people […]





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