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Richard mittleman / Alamy Stock Photo
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More people would back a Muslim for high office than an evangelical Christian

by Heather Preston

Nearly two thirds of voters would support a Muslim holding a top government position, while one in five said an evangelical Christian should not be allowed to go for the job, according to a recent study.

A YouGov poll has shown that 64 per cent of the public would support someone from the Muslim faith for high political office.

In a study of over 2,000 adults in Great Britain, 58 per cent of those surveyed said they would support people of a religious faith holding a top government job while just over half think an evangelical Christian should be allowed to.

The survey, commissioned by religious think tank Theos, comes as the SNP leadership contender Kate Forbes has come under fire for her Christian views - in particular, her comments relating to gay marriage.

Forbes, who is a member of the Free Church of Scotland, said she wouldn't have voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage.

Paul Bickley from Theos told Premier they commissioned the poll to understand what views the public felt should bar someone from high political office: "We felt it was a really important, and another symbolic moment in which the legitimacy of Christian faith in the public sphere was being tested".

"Opposition to same-sex marriage scored highly."

The study, which undertook fieldwork in late February 2023, also asked people if they believed those who oppose same-sex marriage should be allowed to hold a top government job in the UK.

Less than a third thought that a politician who opposes same-sex marriage should be able to go for a top position, while 50 per cent thought they should not.

Bickley told Premier that public perceptions of evangelical Christians have drastically changed over the past decade: "If we did this polling ten years ago, I think you'd see that the most othered or feared group were Muslims. But now amongst four groups - Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Muslims and evangelical Christians the most opposed group is evangelical Christian."

He also said Christians are perceived negatively in society because they don't fit the "script", which "wants to bring those that are marginal to the centre and to offer them protection and to make sure their rights are protected".

"Evangelical Christians are not that group, they are perceived to have been established, so the task, in a way, is to push them out of the centre and put them on the margins," he continued.

Nick Spencer, senior fellow at Theos, said: “Both the current SNP leadership race and our research show we have a complicated and perhaps slightly hypocritical attitude to religion in public life. 

“On the one hand, most of us are happy to welcome it, even at the highest levels, in theory. But on the other hand, when that religious commitment entails unpopular, challenging or socially conservative views, we are much more hesitant. It all poses an awkward question to citizens of liberal democracies: how open and inclusive are we really?”

Other key data from the study revealed one in four (26 per cent) of young people (aged 18–24) would support someone who opposed same–sex marriage being allowed to hold a top political job while climate change was a significant issue for this demographic. The 18–24s were much more likely (68 per cent) to oppose a climate change denier having a top political job. They would be much more likely to face opposition among this age group than a political candidate who would oppose abortion (62 per cent) or same-sex marriage (56 per cent).

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