1 June 2015

The race for the Sikh vote

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The largest survey of Sikh voting behavior in the General Election shows an increasingly competitive race for the Sikh vote.

The Sikh Federation (UK) survey of over 1000 Sikh voters found Labour ahead, with almost half the vote, with the Conservatives up strongly to 36%, a rise of over twenty points.

The survey was conducted by the Sikh Network, a nationwide network of activists from Sikh organisations, youth groups and the professions, who had been gathered to help to put together a ‘Sikh Manifesto’ ahead of the election.

These activists were asked to approach Sikh voters in their areas and regions by email and through Gurdwaras to gauge how Sikhs had cast their votes. The organisers were thus able to gather responses from 1,000 Sikh voters across 190 constituencies during the fortnight after the General Election.

The optional religious question in the 2011 census showed that Sikhism is Britain’s fourth largest faith, with 423,000 adherents, about 0.8% of the population of England and Wales. About a quarter are under eighteen.

Sikh celebration in Southampton. Picture: Angus Kirk
Sikh celebration in Southampton. Picture: Angus Kirk

On the basis of the 2011 census Sikhs make up around 6% of the ethnic minority vote, or just over one in every twenty ethnic minority voters.

The Survation poll of ethnic minorities for British Future included a small sample of 66 Sikh voters out of the 1,633 survey respondents who had voted in the General Election.

In that poll, Conservatives led Labour by 49% to 41% among those Sikh respondents.  As noted in British Future’s release, that sample size is too small to offer any clear guide as to which party was ahead.

The large scale of the Sikh Federation (UK) survey makes it the most important snapshot to date of Sikh political engagement in the 2015 election. While the results do not offer a definitive guide to the politics of the Sikh vote in 2015 either, as the method was not that of a representative poll, its size alone merits attention.


What both surveys do capture is an increasingly competitive battle for voters from ethnic and faith minorities between the political parties.

The Conservatives are growing in confidence about their ability to compete with Labour for a greater share of ethnic minority votes than in the past, and have particularly sought to target aspirational British Indian voters in southern marginals.

David Cameron won positive press coverage from a high profile visit to a Gravesend Gurdwara, on Samantha Cameron’s birthday.

Bhai Amrik Singh, the Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) said:

“Despite the revelations in January 2014, under the 30-year rule, about UK Government assistance in the attack on Sri Harmandir Sahib in June 1984, the Conservatives have closed the gap on Labour in terms of the percentage of the Sikh vote.

“In the next five years the Conservative government has an opportunity to work with us on delivering items in the Sikh Manifesto, such as separate ethnic monitoring of Sikhs, a site in central London to build a monument to mark Sikh sacrifices in the First World War and a Code of Practice relating to the Sikh identity.

“The new Labour leadership will have to take a good hard look at itself in terms of the Sikh vote if it is to stop and reverse this trend of losing Sikh votes.”

Based on the  census, British Future estimates that just under 200,000 Sikhs are likely to have voted in the 2015 General Election, assuming Sikh turnout was similar to the British average of a two-thirds turnout of registered voters.

Studies of the 2010 election did show a broadly even turnout of registered voters across ethnic and faith groups.

The Sikh Federation (UK) suggests that there is a considerably higher Sikh population, of around 700,000.

A proportion of the 18 million who stated they have ‘no religion’ in the census or refused to answer the voluntary question in the census – will also have a Sikh family background, though their response suggests that they do not practice or identify their Sikh faith, despite that family heritage.

The federation also cites non-participation rates in the census being higher in highly diverse towns, with minority groups and younger voters. However, if the census does under-count Sikhs, it is likely that similar factors are likely to affect electoral registration.

Slough is the town with the highest proportion of Sikhs, at nearly 11%. The group is also particularly strong in the West Midlands: 9% of people in Wolverhampton are Sikh, along with 5% in Coventry and 3% of the population of Birmingham.

Labour MP Rob Marris won the closely fought marginal seat of Wolverhampton South-West, where both Labour and the Conservatives increased their share of the constituency vote.

His defeat of Conservative Paul Uppal means that there is now no Sikh MP in the House of Commons, despite the sharp rise in the overall diversity of the House.

The Sikh Federation (UK) surveys were also used to deepen engagement among the Sikh community in British politics and to promote the themes of the ‘Sikh Manifesto’. The group will continue to advocate on these themes with the new government and parliament.

It includes a call for a permanent memorial to the Sikh soldiers in the First World War. 300,000 Sikhs fought with the Indian Army in the First World War, with growing public awareness of this significant contribution during the First World War centenary.

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