Legalising gay marriage has cost the Conservative Party thousands of votes, a study by the Evangelical Alliance has found. A recent poll by the Alliance saw support for the Conservatives drop amongst evangelicals from 40 percent down to 28 percent.
The findings will cause a headache for the party as Christians are highly likely to use their vote – 94 percent of those polled said they were likely or certain to vote at the General Election in May.
The main beneficiary from the Conservatives’ collapsing support is the Labour party, which rises from taking a 22 percent share of the evangelical vote in 2010 to 31 percent in this poll. Ukip also gained, rising from 2 percent in 2010 to 12 percent, although the poll also found a bias towards the left amongst the congregation. In total, 2,020 self-defined evangelicals were surveyed, the majority of whom lived in London, the south, and the east of England, and were men.
Dave Landrum, the Alliance’s advocacy director, said: “The marriage issue has certainly turbocharged the shift in people. Many commented that the redefinition of marriage had badly damaged their view of politics.”
Gay marriage was ranked as the fourth most important issue to evangelicals, with 46 percent saying that the issue would affect their vote. Conversely, just 8 percent said that they would be more likely to vote for a party that supported gay marriage.
“I was a member of the Conservative Party but resigned my membership over Cameron’s action on the redefinition of marriage,” one respondent said; another commented “As a matter of conscience before the Lord I will spoil my ballot paper with the words: ‘Excellent MP. Cannot vote for a party which redefines marriage.’”
The survey also found evangelicals to be highly politically engaged in comparison to the general population. 79 percent of evangelicals said that they knew “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about politics, against 42 percent of the general public. 78 percent have launched or signed an online petition in the last year, compared with just 9 percent of the general public, and 57 percent said that they had contacted their local member of parliament or councillor, against just 8 percent of the general population.
But the issues dear to the hearts of evangelicals are out of kilter with the general public – the top issue for evangelicals was poverty / inequality, which 33 percent said was their single most important issue; it ranked seventh amongst the general population, identified by just 4 percent of the public as their single most important issue.
Conversely, the general public placed immigration at the top of their list, whereas it ranked fourth on the evangelical’s list, being named by just 6 percent. The economy was second on both lists.
The results highlight how poorly the right has done in marketing the moral case for capitalism. Although some aspects of the polling show a fair amount of support for the right – Thatcher ranks third on the list of most admired politicians of all time – often the right is seen as uncaring and uninterested in social justice.
One respondent told the Alliance: “I rejected Labour in 2010 because of their attitude towards religion. Now I just want the Tories out as they are really hurting the poor – I spend too much time trying to help their victims.” 41 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a party that supported the living wage.
The report notes that “church leaders are slightly more likely than other evangelicals to have made up their minds and to support Labour. Labour have the most supporters in all parts of England except the South, where the Conservatives are narrowly ahead.”
In that aspect, it has echoes of the Church of England’s Pastoral Letter, released this week, which praised markets “as an impressively effective system of distribution in a complex society and hugely liberating of human creativity” and applauds Thatcher for being “famously, keen to restore “Victorian Values”, by which she meant not only unregulated markets but a strong sense of duty, self-help and personal responsibility.”
However, having laid out a balanced critique of both left and right, it then goes on to argue that the solutions lie in left-wing policies: it advocates scrapping trident, describes the debate on immigration as having “a slight undercurrent of racism”, supports the Living Wage and says that “the greatest burdens of austerity have not been born by those with the broadest shoulders.”
As a result, Iain Duncan Smith, whose think tank The Centre for Social Justice has done much to make a case for ‘compassionate conservatism’, dismissed the letter, merely remarking that the church had “dwindling relevance”.