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The Catholic Vote In Britain Helped Carry Blair To Victory

Date:23 May 2005
Category:Comment & Analysis
Specialism:Social Research
Keywords:2005 British general election, Catholics, Tony Blair, Victory
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The support of Roman Catholic voters that gave Tony Blair the edge in Labour's narrow defeat of the Conservatives in terms of votes cast at the general election, MORI surveys conducted for The Tablet throughout the election campaign show.

Labour won the election by three points, taking a 36% share of the vote, while the Conservatives took 33% and the Liberal Democrats 23%. Had no Catholics voted, the Tories would have secured a knife-edge 35% to 34% lead in the popular vote, depriving Tony Blair of a popular mandate because of a one point Tory lead.

Britain's tilted electoral system would probably still have delivered Labour an overall majority of seats, even though trailing in the votes cast, but questions about the democratic legitimacy of his hold on power would be very much stronger and his hold on the premiership therefore made tenuous.

As a group, Catholics are among Labour's strongest supporters. Had only Catholics voted, the third Labour landslide would have been of monumental proportions, with Labour gaining more than half of all the votes cast and a majority measured in hundreds of seats rather than tens, while the Liberal Democrats would have almost overtaken the Tories in votes, if not in seats.

The Protestant vote, however, was very different: Michael Howard's party had a ten-point lead over Labour among non-Catholic Christians, and if only they had voted he would have been choosing his Cabinet on the Friday morning following the election.

Tories are particularly strong in the Church of England which, while not quite living up to its old stereotype as "The Conservative Party at prayer", voted 44% Conservative to 31% Labour and 20% Liberal Democrat, a 13 point lead.

Labour support among Catholics, at 53%, stands if anything higher than in 1997 when Tony Blair was first elected: MORI surveys before that election also put Labour's share just over 50%. Catholic loyalty to Tony Blair is in distinct contrast to the attitudes of the rest of the public.

Labour's majority is 66 seats (excluding the Speaker), so by any historical comparison an amazing victory (Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, his immediate Labour Prime Ministerial predecessors, made do with majorities of a handful, and sometimes not even that), it was much closer than his two previous victories, and Labour's third triumph was not so much a "landslide" as a "landslip".

In 1997, British voters gave the Labour Party led by Tony Blair his first Labour landslide, with a majority in the House of Commons of 179 seats over all other parties. In 2001, against a weak and dispirited Opposition led by William Hague, fought by Labour on health care, education and public services and by the Conservatives principally on Europe, the Labour landslide was hardly reduced, to 167.

Now Blair is unpopular in the country for, among other things, his stand on Iraq (eight per cent of Catholics said the debate over the attorney general's advice on the invasion of Iraq changed the way they intended to vote in the election). Nearly a third of Catholics (31%) said they thought the Prime Minister lied about the war from the start, and another 21 per cent of Catholics are of the opinion that while he may have told the truth about Iraq to begin with, he lied later.

With many of colleagues on the Labour benches in the House of Commons still angry about Blair's position on the war and his failure to apologise for taking Britain into the war, his third term may be a rougher ride than the first two; but it would be rougher still without the cushion in seats that Catholic voters have helped to give him.

While fewer than a quarter (22%) of the public generally describes themselves as 'Old Labour', over a third (34%) of Catholics say that best describes their political view.

And a majority of Catholics (56%) were of the opinion that a Labour Government would be most effective in getting good value for the public money it spends, compared to just four in ten of the public generally. More than three in four Catholics, 77%, say they expect the Labour Government to put up their taxes, but as noted above, voted to give them another landslide, but then 73 per cent of Catholics also said that they expected that if the Conservatives had been given power they too would put up taxes.

Two-thirds of the British public consider themselves Christian (including 11% who are Catholics), while one in twelve belong to other religions and a quarter to none. More women are religious than men (20% of women but 29% of men say they have no religion), and the old much more than the young (only 11% of those aged 65-and over are agnostic or atheists, compared to 36% of 18-34 year olds).

There are considerable regional variations, of course, Catholics being most widespread in London, Scotland and particularly the North-West (where one in five are Catholic), sparsest in Wales and the South West. In London Anglicans outnumber Catholics only by two-to-one (32% and 16% of adults respectively), but there are also 18% belonging to non-Christian religions, reflecting the capital's high ethnic minority population. Interestingly, though, there is very little regional variation in the numbers repudiating all faiths.

Contrary to some stereotypes, the greater adherence of Catholics to the Labour Party cannot be explained in terms of social class. There is little difference between Catholic and Anglican churches in the class composition of their respective flocks, and indeed what difference there is points in the other direction — 55% of our Catholic respondents but only 51% of those from the Church of England are "middle class" in market research terms (that is coming from a household where the chief income earner is, or was until retirement, in a non-manual occupation.)

Age is however a significant factor: while there are more professed Catholics in the youngest age groups (14% of 18-24 year olds) than the oldest (9% of those aged 65+), the Church of England by contrast has almost double the proportion of adherents in the oldest age group as in the youngest; the old, of course, tend towards the Conservatives while the young — when they vote — are more likely to support Labour.

Overall, turnout was 61.3%, up from 59.4% at the 2001 election. Turnout was higher among Christians than the rest of the electorate, with 61% of Catholics and 65% of other Christians getting to the polls, compared to 56% of those professing other faiths and 55% of those who said they had no religion.

Catholics were a little more likely than the rest of the public to say that, at the time we interviewed them, they might still change their mind about how to vote — a fifth of all adults but a quarter of Catholics admitted they were still wavering. In the end, though, they made up their minds in Tony Blair's direction.

The country as well as being divided by religion is divided by region and by the demographic characteristics of its electorate. While in the North East, Labour was overwhelmingly preferred, 53% voting for the Labour Party and just 20% for the Conservatives, the South East (excluding London) voted nearly the reverse, 45% for the Tories and 24% for Labour. London was closer to the national average of 36% Labour, 33% Conservative, 23% Liberal Democrat by voting 39% Labour, 32% Tory and 22% for the Lib Dems.

In Scotland, the Tories were the fourth party in the share of the vote, with only 16% while the Scottish National Party had 21%, Labour leading with 40% and the Liberal Democrats on 23%, the national share of the vote across all of Great Britain.

In fact, across nearly all demographic classifications the Liberal Democrats were more or less evenly spread, by gender (23% for women and 22% for men), age (lowest at 18% among those 65 and over and highest among the 25-34 year olds with a 27% share). There was also a wide spread by social class for the Liberal Democrats, 29% of those in professional and managerial positions voting Lib Dem but only 18% of the so-called Ds and Es, those in unskilled working and on state benefits.

The Liberal Democrats were of course strongest in the South West, where they piled up a third of the votes, and weakest in Wales and the East Midlands. Turnout was highest in the South West as well with 64% voting against the 61.3% national average, and lowest in the North East and North West at 57%.

The disappointment of the election turnout was in the 2% decline in the voting of the young, 18-24s, from the woeful 39% last time to just 37% in this election. Despite all the efforts of the political parties and civic groups, the Electoral Commission and the media to capture the attention and involvement of young people, they continued to be disengaged, if not apathetic.

Technical details

MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 4,270 British adults aged 18+, including 471 who stated that they were Roman Catholics, between 15 April and 1 May 2005. Roughly half the interviews were conducted face-to-face, in respondents' homes, and the remainder were conducted by telephone. Data were weighted to the demographic profile of the population and to reflect the final result and turnout at the general election.

Sir Robert Worcester is Founder and Chairman of MORI; Dr Roger Mortimore is MORI's Senior Political Analyst. Their books Explaining Labour's Landslide and Explaining Labour's Second Landslide are published by Politico's.

Share of the Vote — 2005 British General Election

Base: 4,270 British electors

OVERALL %
100% of adults Total vote Labour 36%
61% voted   Conservative 33%
    Liberal Democrat 23%
    Other 8%
    Labour Lead 3%
RELIGION
67% of adults All Labour 35%
64% voted Christian Conservative 38%
    Liberal Democrat 22%
    Other 6%
    Labour Lead -3%
 
11% of adults Catholics Labour 53%
61% voted   Conservative 23%
    Liberal Democrat 22%
    Other 2%
    Labour Lead 30%
 
56% of adults Other Labour 31%
65% voted Christians Conservative 41%
    Liberal Democrat 21%
    Other 6%
    Labour Lead -10%
 
8% of adults Other Labour 43%
56% voted Religions Conservative 24%
    Liberal Democrat 23%
    Other 10%
    Labour Lead 19%
 
24% of adults None Labour 38%
55% voted   Conservative 21%
    Liberal Democrat 27%
    Other 14%
    Labour Lead 17%
MORI Final Aggregate Analysis Profile of Electorate Profile of Voters Vote 2005 Lab Change since '01 Turnout
Base: "Absolutely certain to vote" (n = 10,986)     Con Lab LD Other Lead Con Lab LD Swing 2005 Change
Total 'n' = 17,959 % % % % % % %         %  
All:   100% 100% 33 36 23 8 3 0 -6 +4 3.0 61% +2
Gender: Men 48% 49% 34 34 22 10 * +2 -8 +4 5.0 62% +1
  Women 52% 51% 32 38 23 7 6 -1 -4 +4 1.5 61% +3
Gender gap       +2 -4 -1 +3 -2 -1 0 -1 -1.0    
 
Age: 18-24 11% 7% 28 38 26 8 10 +1 -3 +2 2.0 37% -2
  25-34 17% 14% 25 38 27 10 13 +1 -13 +8 7.0 49% +3
  35-44 20% 20% 27 41 23 9 14 -1 -4 +4 1.5 61% +2
  45-54 16% 17% 31 35 25 9 4 -1 -6 +5 2.5 65% 0
  55-64 15% 17% 39 31 22 8 -8 0 -6 +5 3.0 71% +2
  65+ 21% 25% 41 35 18 6 -6 +1 -4 +1 2.5 75% +5
Age gap       -13 -3 +8 -2 -16 -13 +2 +7 -11.0    
 
Social class: AB 24% 28% 37 28 29 6 -9 -2 -2 +4 0.0 71% +3
  C1 29% 30% 37 32 23 8 -5 +1 -6 +3 3.5 62% +2
  C2 21% 20% 33 40 19 8 7 +4 -9 +4 6.5 58% +2
  DE 25% 23% 25 48 18 9 23 +1 -7 +5 4.0 54% +1
Class gap       +12 -20 +11 -3 32 +13 -25 -1 -12.0    
 
Housing tenure: Owned 32% 37% 44 29 20 7 -15 +1 -3 +1 2.0 71% +3
  Mortgaged 40% 40% 31 36 25 8 5 0 -6 +5 3.0 60% +1
  Social renter 18% 15% 16 55 19 10 39 -2 -5 +5 1.5 51% -1
  Private renter 9% 7% 27 36 28 9 9 -1 -4 +3 1.5 51% +5
Postal voting: Yes 99% 99% 34 38 22 6 4   n/a     73% n/a
2001 Vote (reported)@: Con 20% 26% 90 2 6 2 -88 -10 +2 +6 -6.0 80% -20
  Lab 37% 43% 8 72 15 5 64 +8 -28 +15 18.0 71% -29
  Lib Dem 12% 14% 12 6 78 4 -6 +12 +6 -22 3.0 75% -25
Region: East Midlands 7% 8% 37 39 18 6 2 0 -6 +3 3.0 63% +2
  Eastern 9% 10% 43 30 22 5 -13 +1 -7 +5 4.0 64% +2
  Greater London 13% 11% 32 39 22 7 7 +2 -8 +5 5.0 58% +3
  North East 4% 4% 20 53 23 4 33 -1 -6 +6 2.5 57% +1
  North West 12% 11% 29 45 21 5 16 0 -6 +4 3.0 57% +1
  Scotland 9% 9% 16 40 23 21 24 0 -4 +7 2.0 61% +3
  South East 14% 15% 45 24 25 6 -21 +2 -5 +1 3.5 64% +2
  South West 9% 10% 39 23 33 5 -16 0 -3 +2 1.5 67% +2
  Wales 5% 5% 21 43 18 18 22 0 -6 +4 3.0 62% 0
  West Midlands 9% 9% 35 39 19 7 4 0 -6 +4 3.0 61% +3
  Yorks & Humberside 9% 8% 29 44 21 6 15 -1 -5 +4 2.0 59% +2
Men by Age: 18-24 6% 4% 33 34 25 8 1 +4 -4 -1 4.0 39% -4
  25-34 9% 7% 29 33 27 11 4 +5 -19 +8 12.0 49% +2
  35-54 18% 19% 31 36 22 11 5 +2 -7 +3 4.5 64% 0
  55+ 16% 19% 40 33 20 7 -7 +1 -6 +4 3.5 74% +1
Women by Age: 18-24 6% 3% 22 43 26 9 21 -2 -2 +3 0.0 35% -1
  25-34 9% 7% 21 43 28 8 22 -4 -6 +9 1.0 48% +2
  35-54 18% 18% 27 40 25 8 13 -4 -3 +5 -0.5 61% +1
  55+ 19% 23% 41 34 20 5 -7 +1 -4 +2 2.5 73% +6
Men by Class: AB 12% 14% 37 27 28 8 -10 -1 -4 +3 1.5 70% +2
  C1 14% 15% 39 29 22 10 -10 +3 -9 +8 6.0 63% +1
  C2 11% 10% 32 39 18 11 7 +4 -10 +5 7.0 57% +1
  DE 11% 9% 24 47 17 12 23 +1 -8 +3 4.5 55% -1
Women by Class: AB 12% 14% 36 29 29 6 -7 -5 +1 +3 -3.0 71% +3
  C1 15% 15% 34 35 23 8 1 -3 -2 +3 -0.5 61% +2
  C2 10% 10% 34 40 20 6 6 +4 -8 +3 6.0 58% +2
  DE 15% 13% 25 49 18 8 24 0 -7 +5 3.5 54% +4

*Smaller base — not asked on every survey Source: MORI surveys for the Observer, Financial Times, Sun, and Evening Standard

@Change figures assume report of 2001 vote is accurate

An asterisk denotes a figure of less than one percent but not zero.

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