Religious right groups and traditionalist conservatives are ringing warning bells, telling David Cameron that if England passes marriage equality, Christians will flee the Tories in large numbers. Well, the two other major parties, the Liberal Democrats and Labour, both support marriage equality as well, so to whom do they flee?
The Independent wrote: "Nearly three fifths of churchgoers (58%) are less likely to vote for David Cameron at the next general election following his plans to legalise gay marriage, according to a survey released today."
While this sounds scary for Tories, there are a few things to note, the first, being that the poll itself is very dodgy. It asked leading questions and was skewed toward Christian sects most likely to be anti-gay. But, more importantly, however, the number of "church-goers" in the United Kingdom is relatively tiny.
Brierley Consultancy works with British churches to help them understand what is happening within the church. Their numbers show that religion in the UK is in trouble. They report: "In 2010 there were 5.5 million church members in the UK, 11.2% of the population, 0.3 million fewer than 5 years previously in 2005 when the percentage was 12.3%." The World Bank estimated the population of the UK to be 62.6 million today. Based on current trends, Brierley predicts that church membership will continue to decline. It is reasonable to assume that about 10% of Brits are church members. 58% of 10% means they are talking about 6% of the population only.
Another reason to dismiss the poll is that it surveyed the one group that everyone already knows is most opposed to equality of rights for gay people: churchgoers in general.
However, the poll did more than simply survey church members; it polled some denominations more than others. Anglicans were slightly under-polled, while Baptists comprised 17% of those polled, (though only 4% of UK church members are Baptist). Catholic rank-and-file are far more supportive of gay marriage than their church leaders and make up 27% of UK churchgoers, but this "poll" included only 6% Catholics.
Members of independent churches, often fundamentalist, make up 4% of all UK churchgoers. They also made up 12.5% of those polled for this survey.
The median age in the UK is 40, which means that half the population is under 40 years-old and half is older. This "poll, done for the anti-gay organization Coalition for Marriage, was skewed heavily toward the oldest people in the UK. According to their own sampling, 79.5% surveyed were 45 years or older. Only about 16% of all British are over the age of 65, while 21% in this poll were that old.
Consider how lopsided this "poll" was designed to be. First, it surveyed the most religious people in the UK only. They surveyed the oldest, most conservative age group in the country, and heavily skewed the poll toward the most fundamentalist sects.
The anti-gay group Catholic Voices pulled a similar stunt in the UK and a "poll" by the National Organization for Marriage in New York State was similarly dishonest. That poll included only 7% under the age of 40, though in New York 34.1% fall into that age group. They also disproportionately surveyed old, religious conservatives and pretended they represented the population as a whole. A Mormon-connected poll did something very similar.
The simple fact remains that any poll says whatever you want it to say if you target demographics improperly. This British poll surveyed fundamentalists out of proportion, not only to the population at large, but to the population of church members as well. This poll may as well have had a headline accompanying it saying: "People most opposed to gay marriage, are most opposed to gay marriage."