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UK: Same sex marriage survey -- the latest round

UK: Same sex marriage survey -- the latest round
Ozanne Foundation spins the numbers

By Judi Sture
March 9, 2020

We should be grateful that the Ozanne Foundation (OF) had the sense to commission the Same Sex Marriage Survey from YouGov, rather than repeat their own car-crash survey of late 2018 (the Faith and Sexuality Survey). But despite professional input, we again see the OF trumpeting 'findings' that have not been shown.

What does Jayne Ozanne tell us that the results show?

Jayne Ozanne: '....Nearly half of Church of England members now believe same sex marriage is right, with well over two-thirds of those under 50 believing it is right... younger Anglicans .... are overwhelmingly clear where they stand .... with nearly three quarters of the under 50s now believing in same sex marriage....To pretend that this is an issue on which many have not yet formed a view is to misunderstand the reality of what is happening in our pews.

It all sounds quite good for the OF so far, right? Those backward Anglicans are finally being dragged into the 21st century! And look at that - 77% of the 18-24s think same sex marriage is right! It's only those old fogies of 65+ that are the blot on the landscape!

So, where's the problem with Ozanne's statement? Well it's this - the results don't actually show what she says.

Let's look at the sample. The Church of England itself says that less than 2% of the population are practising Anglicans. The latest figures from October 2018, state that: The Church of England's Worshipping Community was 2.0% of the population (1.12 million people) in 2018. The attendance in an average week in October 2018 was 1.5% of the population (703,000).

But in the representative sample from the YouGov poll, we find that around 20% say they are Anglican. If this is representative of regular attenders, that would make 11.2 million members of the Church of England's Worshipping Community, rather than 1.12 million. Where have these other 10 million Anglicans been hiding?

Those in the random sample are probably 'hospital Anglicans' - if admitted to hospital, they would tick the 'CofE' box rather than any other, on the off-chance they need a chaplain. So, unless YouGov has managed to uncover representatives of 10 million underground practising Anglicans who have hitherto remained invisible to the Church, these 20% of respondents are not weekly or even regular church attenders. In fact, the survey did not ask anyone if they actually attend church.

Another professional researcher has said it is 'incorrect to describe this as a sample of Anglicans in England in any meaningful sense other than as a cultural identifier'. This immediately demolishes Ozanne's claim that acceptance of same sex marriage is 'the reality of what is happening in our pews'. Next!

Jayne Ozanne: .... younger Anglicans.... are overwhelmingly clear where they stand .....with nearly three quarters of the under 50s now believing in same sex marriage.

But the 18-24 age group's figures were statistically inadmissible. Such a small number of respondents from that age group gave answers that the figures can't be relied on:

YouGov states: Any percentages calculated on bases fewer than 50 respondents must not be reported as they do not represent a wide enough cross-section of the target population to be considered statistically reliable.

See that? 'Must not be reported'. Why? Because such figures are not statistically reliable. That's the 77% of 18-24 year-old 'Anglicans' who now think that same sex marriage is 'right'. So the problems with this 'overwhelmingly clear' response is simply this -- the figures can't be used to show anything meaningful as they are too low. They can't be used (reported). They are not representative of the self-identified 'Anglicans' in the survey, let alone of the true Anglican population in the pews.

What about Ozanne's claim that 'Nearly half of Church of England members now believe same sex marriage is right'? Firstly, the respondents were not asked if they are Anglican members. They were just asked to tick a box indicating their religious preference. This is not the same thing.

So, bearing this confounding factor in mind, yes, 48% of the 'Anglicans' said that same sex marriage is 'right'. But when we add up the 'wrongs' and the 'don't knows' we find 52% of them on the 'not right' side of the fence.

We could suggest that respondents may have felt uncomfortable on the phone saying that same sex marriage is 'wrong' and said 'don't know' instead. There is a research phenomenon called Social Desirability Bias - a tendency among respondents to give answers that are likely to find favour with the interviewer. Did this happen here? We don't know. But it's a possibility. Of course, it may be entirely accurate and I could be completely wrong.

Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool: Attitudes are indeed changing quickly, and we must be open to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us through them if we are to be an effective witness of God's love to the nation. These results provide a challenge to us in leadership within the Church of England to ensure that we understand the views of the people we serve.

It's news to me that the Holy Spirit now speaks through people's attitudes and surveys. And the people you serve, Bishop? How about listening to the people who are actually sitting in the pews week in and week out? The ones who believe the Bible?

Jayne Ozanne: These results show that those opposed to same-sex marriage are now clearly in the minority, and that a substantial group within the Church of England believe same sex marriage is right.

Sorry, Jayne, but we've already dismissed that one. Opinions can't actually change doctrine and 2000 years of Christian teaching.

This shows the urgent need for the Church of England hierarchy to recognise and respect the clear views of a significant proportion of its members, which are steadily increasing as time goes by.

So, if enough people believe something, that makes it right.

To pretend that this is an issue on which many have not yet formed a view is to misunderstand the reality of what is happening in our pews.

Let's do a survey of actual Anglican congregations before we can be clear about same sex marriage being cheered to the rafters in our parish churches.

Thank God for Colin Hart of the Christian Institute: You can't abandon Christian teaching because some people don't like it. The faith once delivered to all the saints didn't emerge as a result of polling or focus groups...The Bible's message is clear. Marriage can only ever be between one man and one woman...We cannot draw any conclusions from the poll about the beliefs of communicant members of the CofE.

Go for it, Colin!

Once again, the Ozanne Foundation claims as fact things which have not been clearly demonstrated. Ozanne and Bayes are either unaware of their errors in interpreting research. Or they are aware of it but choose to carry on announcing their flawed 'findings' anyway. Which is it? The answer is important. Because they are either deluded, with no apparent will to see the limitations of their arguments, or they are being deliberately dishonest. Any thoughts on which?

Dr Judi Sture was formerly a senior lecturer and researcher at a UK university; she led a Master's programme in Research Methods and spent 15 years teaching PhD students how to carry out effective research. Her own research has also been widely published and has influenced international policy through the UN and other national and international organisations and governments. She writes a blog on Culture, Faith and Life here: https://viewfromthecrowsnest.net/ which includes a longer version of this article.

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