28 May 2012

How many republicans are there really?

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At the weekend The Observer reported that British anti-monarchists were from 22% to 50% of the population, but over the years most research has shown that percentage to be much lower. With the Jubilee around the corner, Sunder Katwala says it is time for the republicans to get real.


“As much of the UK gears up to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, not everyone is happy”, as the BBC reported on Sunday. The Observer  also reported on Republican efforts to use the moment to voice their democratic argument for the abolition of the monarchy.

The bad news for Britain’s Republican minority is that that public support for the monarchy in 2012 is at the highest level ever recorded in modern opinion polls, with 80% favouring keeping the monarchy and only 13% supporting a republic in the most recent Ipsos-Mori poll on the subject.

Graham Smith, the head of Republic, says that the 13% finding, that support  for a republic had fallen to 13%, “is clearly a blip because every other poll before and after shows about 20-25%”.  The Observer, perhaps falling prey to wishful thinking, went rather further, with its surprising claim that “British anti-monarchists – anything from 22% to 50% of the population, according to recent polls – [are] wondering where the dissent has gone”.

So how many republicans are there?

Usually, just under one in five people say that they want a republic.

What is most striking thing about British public attitudes to the monarchy is their incredible stability over time. Far from fluctuating widely, and towards half of the population, it is very difficult to find any other long-term trend in British social or political attitudes that has been quite as stable as support or opposition to the monarchy.

The question of monarchy or republic seems to have been first asked by Mori in 1969, when 19% of people wanted a republic. The Ipsos-Mori archive of polls on the monarchy shows how the number has invariably  remained within 3% of that figure across four decades since, very briefly peaking at 22 per cent in the run-up to Prince Charles’ marriage to Camilla in 2005.  (ICM also found 22% support for a republic in that year).

The one previous dip in support for a republic came after the death of Diana. Though the monarchy came under much media and public pressure, support for a republic briefly dipped to single figures, as a mark of respect, before republicanism returned to its steady state of 18% within a month.

The 13% support for a republic may well be a blip, marking Jubilee warmth towards the Queen, though it could also reflect the increased profile and popularity of the younger Royals, following Kate Middleton’s wedding to Prince William.

Attitudes to the monarchy do vary, a little at least, when different questions are put in different ways.

The latest ICM poll for the Guardian finds that 22% think the country would be better off without the Royal family. It seems surprising that republicanism can not convert all of this group to its cause. Yet, in the same poll, when offered a choice between Charles or William as the next monarch, only 10% said they wanted neither, and an elected president instead, with William leading his father by 48% to 39% over the choice to be King, suggesting some lukewarm republicans, who would be happy with a choice within the Royal family.

If the republicans wanted to reach out to a larger audience, perhaps a Jubilee campaign to elect Prince William president would be the message with most popular appeal!

That would not, of course, appeal to the more committed Republican core, which is made up of the 5% who tell YouGov, in a poll for this month’s Prospect magazine, that the monarchy is one of the worst things about Britain. But 42% choose the Queen or the Monarchy as one of the best things in the country, behind only history and national pride, the NHS and the countryside.

Though the democratic argument will go on during the Jubilee weekend, but there is little doubt that the national celebrations will reflect a country at ease with the Queen and the monarchy.

This weekend, Britain’s republicans will have to take the long view. They did, of course, succeed in removing a British monarch, with the death of Charles I back in 1649, but saw the monarchy restored a decade later. The last three and a half centuries have been rather barren for republicanism, and there is little evidence of any public appetite for a change soon.

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