A poll suggested a boom in religiosity among young people — but it's not true
An opinion poll result written up prominently on the BBC News website this week caused quite a stir.
“Young people more likely to pray than over 55s – survey” ran the headline, with data and commentary provided by the respected international polling company Savanta ComRes. The astonishing results suggest that 51% of British 18-34 year olds pray at least once a month, compared to 24% of over 55 year olds; and that fully 49% of the youngest age group attend a place of worship every month, compared to just 16% of over 55 year olds.
How surprising! There was I thinking that we were in a rapidly secularising society, with most people (52%) now claiming they have no religion whatsoever, and only 1% of the youngest age group describing themselves as Anglican, according to the most recent British Social Attitudes survey.
I wasn’t the only one to find it remarkable — commentators as far afield as the United States began weighing in. “Fascinating,” wrote top conservative David French, “young people in Britain are praying more and attending worship more than the older folks.” “Lots of people have been predicting a religious revival,” remarked Substack superstar Bari Weiss — “maybe it’s already here?”
So is there some undercover religious movement sweeping the country? Are the shy Christians the new shy Tories or shy Trumpers, eluding pollsters until they erupt into mass silent protest? Or it can be explained by the British Muslim community, which is known to be more religious?
I am sorry to say it is none of these things. It is just a dud poll. Horribly, wildly, embarrassingly inaccurate; totally unrelated to the real world. Fake news, if you will, carried and amplified by the national broadcaster.
Neither the quantum nor the trend (that young are more religious than old) are even close to being true.
The charity that commissioned the opinion poll from Savanta ComRes, the Eternal Wall of Answered Prayer — who certainly cannot be blamed for the mess — was kind enough to provide me with the full data tables, and I studied them looking for answers.
Certainly, an overwhelming majority of the Muslim respondents (71%) said they pray at least once a month — but they only represented around 5% of the sample, so that is not the answer to this conundrum. The “Christian” respondents came in with an unconvincingly high score of 35% praying at least once a month, and they represented more than half the sample. Given only 38% of the population back in 2018 described themselves as Christian and less than half of those describe themselves as ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ religious, this seems horribly off kilter.
YouGov was also intrigued as to the odd result, and ran the same question with exactly the same wording this past week, the results of which I can exclusively share here.
Suffice to say, these are rather closer to the truth, and sit in line with the BSA polling over recent decades as well as the experience of actually living in Britain in 2021.
YouGov found that 7%, not 51%, of 18-24 year olds report praying at least once a month, and 7%, not 49%, of 18-24 year olds attend a service of worship once a month. Among the whole British population, 14% of people say they pray once a month or more, not 36% as Savanta ComRes reported; and 8% attend a church service of some kind, not 31%. I’ve pasted the results in comparison below if you’re interested in the details. The error is so massive, and flies so much against common sense, as to demand the question: how did Savanta ComRes allow it to be released?
The truth is that we still live in an overwhelmingly, and increasingly, secular society and the young people get less interested in religion by the day.
And wildly inaccurate polls are still regularly produced, and credulously reported by the BBC.