Will religion determine the Referendum?

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Pundits recognise that ‘religious extremism’ and the ‘migrant crisis’ have religious undertones, yet we still find it difficult to recognize, understand or report the religious dimension of political phenomena. The EU Referendum struggles to see any further than mere economics.

A recent survey showed that 54% of those identifying as “Christian” are more likely to favour leaving the EU compared with 43% of those with no religious affiliation. (1)

(1) Dr Stuart Fox concludes: ‘There is clear evidence of the potential for religious affiliation to have a notable impact on the outcome of the EU referendum.’ Yet, crucially he adds: ‘The “Remain” and “Leave” campaigns have focussed their efforts on issues relating to economics and public services, and have paid almost no attention to “identity issues”, such as religious affiliation.’

Differences in voting intentions – i.e. between Christians, those of other faiths or none – also came to light in an English survey conducted by Populus for the Hope not Hate campaign organization.

Nearly 51% of those identifying themselves as “Christians” said they were definitely (or at least be more likely to) vote to leave the EU, compared with 41% of those of no religion, 38% of Muslims and 13% of Hindus. Samples of Sikhs and Jews were too small to draw any conclusions from, however a poll for the Jewish Chronicle in May showed that just 34% of Jews in Britain backed Brexit.

It is not just in Britain that support for the European Union has a religious dimension. Using data from the European Social Survey (ESS), Margaret Scherer of Goethe University in Frankfurt showed that citizens of EU countries with a Catholic heritage are more likely to support European unification, than those from historically Protestant countries.

Scherer’s somewhat surprising conclusion is that ‘Religious historical background still shapes contemporary political attitudes towards the EU’ and that it also represents ‘a deep layer of public support for European integration’. Brent Nelsen et al say: ‘Religion shapes a confessional culture that lingers long after the vibrancy of faith has diminished.’ Europe may have a secular face, but religion still resides at its heart.

The attitude of many Christians to the European project is related to an understanding of Christian ethics, a belief in the inviolability of nationhood and Britain as a ‘Christian’ nation; so religion 21JuneSecondPiccontinues to shape popular the attitude. Religion is a major factor in Europe’s current crises and a determinant in the outcome of the Referendum, which is very much a religious issue.

(1)    Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research Data & Methods (WISERD)

Edited version of an article by Peter Carruthers – strategic analyst and Director of Vision 37 Ltd. (17th June 2016)

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