A new ComRes opinion poll, commissioned by the Church of England, has suggested that young people are more likely to pray, attend religious services, and read religious texts than old people. The polling has received widespread media coverage, but it flies in the face of all previous polling and observable data, bar another from ComRes. Humanists UK has said that this means questions ought to be asked about the accuracy of the latest poll.
The new poll of British adults found that 38% of 18-24 year-olds pray at least monthly, or 58% for the last year. These figures were 25% and 41%, respectively, for over 55s.
The same poll also claimed that 29% of 18-24s said they attend a place of worship at least monthly, or 58% in the last year. These figures were 15% and 40% for over 55s.
These findings are at odds with other surveys and with observational data on attendance at places of worship.
ComRes believes there has been a massive decline in young adults’ religiosity
In August last year, ComRes conducted an identical poll to its latest one, for the Eternal Wall of Answered Prayer. That produced even more striking results. It found 51% of 18-24 year-olds pray every month, versus 24% of those aged 55 and over. It also found that 49% of 18-24s said they attended a place of worship at least monthly, versus 17% of over 55s.
Taken at face value, ComRes’s two polls would suggest a dramatic dropoff in the religiosity of 18-24 year-olds over the previous 12 months. There has been a decline of 13% (from 51% to 38%) in monthly prayer, and 20% (from 49% to 29%) in monthly worship attendance.
If that were true, that would be a staggering decline that would surely have been widely observed by religious groups as a cause for concern. (It would also be surprising in light of the return to worship that has happened over the period involved, given the end of pandemic restrictions.) Instead, the latest figures are being celebrated by the Church of England, and reported on by the media, as the opposite of this – as a religious revival among young people.
Is ComRes correct in its findings?
Another explanation for the findings is that both ComRes surveys are simply incorrect. This seems most plausible, as the results are at odds with all other surveys, such as the British Social Attitudes Survey. Its 2018 results found 23% of 18-24 year-olds attend a place of worship at least once a month, and 20% pray at least monthly. Similarly, after the ComRes poll last year, YouGov decided to ask the same questions, with the results written up by UnHerd. It found just 7% of 18-24s attend a place of worship at least once a month, and 7% pray at least monthly. YouGov’s overall figures on all-ages monthly worship attendance (8%) were very much in line with observed attendance data, whereas ComRes’s 2021 poll (31%) was seriously inflated on this front. The latest ComRes poll also says 31% of British adults attend worship at least monthly. This is also evidently not true.
Commenting on the latest ComRes figures, Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs Richy Thompson said:
‘Last autumn a ComRes poll was released that apparently showed a great revival of young people’s religiosity, in the face of all other evidence. It was taken as accurate and written up accordingly by the media. But it was subsequently challenged by YouGov, who asked the same questions, but got results that were drastically different – and in line with existing observable data.
‘Now history is repeating itself. The Church of England has commissioned ComRes to conduct another poll, it has produced results again showing a great revival (albeit with a significant decline in size from last year), and it has been written up as accurate by various media outlets.
‘ComRes needs to ask itself why it is getting results so at odds with the British Social Attitudes Survey, YouGov, and observed church attendance figures. The media should also give more scrutiny to polling giving surprising results – checking whether they are supported by other data, and if not, asking why.’
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.