13 Jan 2014

Estimating the size of the UK’s Muslim population – survey

Londoners generally underestimate the size of the capital’s Muslim community, but across the rest of the UK’s regional cities, the tendency is for overestimation, a survey by Channel 4 News has found.

British Muslims head to Friday prayers (picture: Getty)

The survey asked people to judge the proportion of Muslims within their nearest city, covering 34 major British settlements.

Channel 4 News conducted the survey following media reports that one in ten babies and toddlers in the UK is from Muslim families. A report in the Times, which ran the story on its front page, suggested it was a sign of a “startling” change in UK demography. A debate on Channel 4 News on Friday questioned why Islam was being focused upon.

Media coverage of Islam in the UK has in the past been accused of hype. An article in June last year said that within 40 years the UK would be a Muslim majority country.

Over or under estimate?

The Channel 4 News survey asked people to estimate the size of the Islamic community in their area based on five options: “less than 1 per cent”, “1 to 5 per cent”, “5 to 10 per cent”, “10 to 25 per cent” and “more than 25 per cent”.

From more than 2,400 respondents, the results showed that people are generally correct in estimating the size of their local Muslim community. In total 38.4 per cent of people correctly identified the correct percentage bracket for their nearest city (see graphic below).

However, of those that answered incorrectly, there was a greater tendency to overestimate the size of Muslim populations than underestimate them.

Out of all 2,413 respondents, around 29 per cent guessed that the Muslim population in their local city was smaller than it actually was, compared with 32 per cent who overestimated.

Regional divide?

However, there were huge differences in perception in cities across the country. Londoners significantly underestimated the size of the capital’s Muslim population.

Nearly half (49.3 per cent) of all respondents in London guessed that the capital’s Muslim population was less than 10 per cent, when it is in fact 12.4 per cent.

At the other end of the spectrum, some of the cities with the largest Muslim populations were also responsible for the greatest levels of overestimation.

More than 60 per cent of respondents in Bradford, where Muslims account for 24.7 per cent of the population, guessed that the Islamic community made up more than 25 per cent of the population.

The most significant overestimations of the size of the Muslim population were in Wolverhampton (80 per cent of 25 respondents), Bradford (61.1 per cent of 126 respondents), Sunderland (47.6 per cent of 21 respondents), Southampton (42.2 per cent of 45 respondents) and Leeds (41.75 per cent of 103 respondents).

Cities that underestimated the most were London (49.3 per cent of 548 respondents), Newcastle (47.3 per cent of 74 respondents), Swansea (46.7 per cent of 15 respondents), Exeter (41.1 per cent of 36 respondents) and Bristol (40.8 per cent of 76 respondents).

You can view the dataset here.