Henry Jackson Society study shows that minority religions could be crucial in influencing both the 2015 electoral result and the future British political landscape.
Religious Diversity in British Parliamentary Constituencies, the most comprehensive study of its kind, finds that while Great Britain’s parliamentary constituencies remain overwhelmingly Christian, minority religions have a potential influence on politics that far exceeds their relative size of the population (collectively 7.8%), on account of their high presence in marginal seats. In 93 of these 193 seats, the margin of victory is outweighed by at least one minority religion – a share of 48.2%.
Though members of minority religions in a particular constituency will not necessarily vote in a uniform manner, there are some scenarios in which the presence of a religious minority has significant potential influence on the outcome, particularly within marginal seats. Among the 93 marginal seats where one or more minority religions outweighs the margin of victory, Islam outweighs the majority vote in 90 (96.9%); Hindus in 40 (43.0%); Sikhs in 25 (26.9%); Buddhists in 15 (16.1%); and, Jews in 11 (11.8%).
Dr Alan Mendoza, Executive Director of The Henry Jackson Society and the report’s author, commented:
“This study provides a fascinating look at Britain’s changing religious demographic dynamics and how they are concentrated in relation to political power. Although religious affiliation is only one of any number of factors that explain how people vote, for the first time we now have a basis on which to examine the influence of ‘religious issues’ in that process. Britain is changing rapidly. Will our political parties be up to the challenge of recognising that process?”
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The data was obtained by matching political data from the 2010 parliamentary elections against census data on the UK’s religious make-up. A breakdown of the study’s key statistical findings shows:
- Great Britain remains a Christian-majority country – approximately six in every ten residents identifies as Christian. The smallest Christian share of any constituency is 24.2% in Leicester East in the East Midlands, and the largest share is 81.5% in Knowsley in the North East.
- Overall, higher proportions of individuals who identify as having ‘No Religion’ are responsible for the below average Christian share in Scotland and Wales, whereas, in London it is members of minority faiths – predominantly, but not exclusively, Muslims.
- London and the West Midlands are the most religiously diverse regions in Great Britain, while the North East is the least.
Minority Religions in Marginal Seats
- In line with the proportion of religious adherence in Great Britain, Islam is the largest minority religion in four fifths (155 of 193, or 80.3%) of Great Britain’s marginal seats, a proportion equal to that among all constituencies. This is followed by: Buddhism in 21 constituencies (10.9%); Sikhism in eight (4.1%); Hinduism in seven (3.6%); and, Judaism in two (1.0%).
- Two of the ten constituencies nationally in which the largest minority religion is followed by one third or more of the population are marginal seats. They are: Labour-held Birmingham Hall Green in the West Midlands, with a 46.6% Muslim share of residents; and Lib Dem-held Bradford East in Yorkshire and The Humber, with a 36.9% Muslim share of residents.
- There are an additional six marginal seats in which the largest minority religion is followed by one fifth or more of the population. They are: Harrow East in London (28.2% Hindu share); Luton South in the East of England (25.3% Muslim share); Harrow West in London (24.7% Hindu share); Rochdale (23.6% Muslim share); Westminster North in London (22.6% Muslim share); Brent Central in London (21.2% Muslim share); and, Birmingham Yardley in the West Midlands (20.6% Muslim share).
Potential Impact of Minority Religions on the 2015 Election
Broadly speaking, Great Britain’s minority religions have the potential to carry more influence among marginal seats than all constituencies overall.
- In a quarter of all constituencies (159 of 632, or 25.2%) the number of Muslims is greater than the margin of victory (votes rather than share of the votes). This share rises to almost half (46.6%) among the 193 marginal seats, in 90 of which the number of Muslims is greater than the margin of victory.
- There are 51 constituencies (8.1% overall) where the number of Hindus is greater than the margin of victory, 40 of which are marginal seats (20.7%); 34 constituencies (5.4% overall) where the number of Sikhs is greater than the margin of victory, 25 of which are marginal seats (13.0% of marginal seats); 15 constituencies, all of which are marginal, where the number of Buddhists is greater than the margin of victory (2.1% overall; 7.8% marginal seats); and, 13 constituencies where the number of Jews is greater than the margin of victory (2.1% overall), 11 of which are marginal seats (5.7%).
However, in all cases, the potential influence of followers of minority religions on the 2015 elections is – to varying degrees – disproportionate to their overall size.
- Hindus comprise 1.4% of the population, but are equal to or greater than the margin of victory in 20.7% of marginal seats – 15 times greater than their size; Muslims comprise 4.5% of the population, but are equal to or greater than margin of victory in almost half of marginal seats (46.6%) – an almost tenfold increase; Sikhs comprise 0.7% of the population but are equal to or greater than the margin of victory in 13.0% of marginal seats, an almost 20-fold increase; and, Buddhists and Jews both make up 0.4% population but are equal to or greater than the margin of victory in 7.8% and 5.7% of marginal seats, a 20-fold and 14-fold increase respectively.
Section 1.1 was amended to make the methodology clearer on 27 May 2015.