In our democratic age, no monarch could survive a determined push by voters to dispense with the royal family. Bearing that in mind, what is the state of public opinion – and should it worry the new King?
At first sight, the figures suggest he has nothing to fear. For three decades, Ipsos (formerly Mori) has been tracking public attitudes to the basic question: would we favour Britain becoming a republic, or remaining a monarchy? The largest number favouring a republic has been 22% – and the smallest number favouring a monarchy has been 65%. On average there has been a four-to-one preference for the status quo. Support for a monarchy was highest in May 2012, during the Queen’s diamond jubilee, when the margin was six-to-one (favouring monarchy: 80%, republic 13%).
The latest Ipsos figures, from this May, are at the lower end of support for the monarchy (68-22%), but within the mildly oscillating 30-year trend.
There are, however, two clouds that intrude on the seemingly clear blue sky. The first is that views vary by politics, age and ethnicity.
The latest Ipsos figures show that while Conservative voters favour a monarchy by an overwhelming 94-4% margin, Labour voters are more divided: a majority, 59%, favours a monarchy but as many as 32% would prefer a republic. The royal family endured various crises during the Queen’s reign. If any erupt during the King’s, he should hope that they do not occur when Labour is in office. It’s not that Keir Starmer or any likely successor will seek an abdication, but in some circumstances they might face pressures within their party that they could struggle to contain.
Over-65s back a monarchy by 10-to-one (83-8%), but under-25s divide evenly (monarchy 41%, republic 42%). This is one of those issues where we might expect voters to acquire more traditional attitudes as they grow older; but if today’s young republicans retain their current views, then as time goes by and older voters die out, then the overall figures could show a steady decline in support.
Britain’s ethnic minority voters contain a plurality of republicans, who outnumber monarchists by 47-38%. Again, we cannot be certain whether people will maintain their current views; but if they do, then as the ethnic composition of the UK continues to change, so will the overall figures for the electorate as a whole.
The second cloud on the King’s horizon concerns the cause(s) of Britain’s continuing monarchist majority. The length of the Queen’s reign means that public views are inevitably coloured by her personal popularity.
This was always high – and much higher than that of Prince Charles, as he was. The table shows YouGov’s final figures for the main members of the royal family before he became King.
One opportunity, perhaps his biggest, is to link two things: his commitment to the environment with his need to increase his support among younger and progressive voters. These are the very people who are most concerned about climate change. He is on their side; he has the opportunity, as King, to get them on his.
The challenge is to achieve this while maintaining political neutrality, and never saying anything that doesn’t have government approval. But while there are limits to what the King can say, there is much he can do.
As Prince of Wales, Charles set an example on his estates, with solar panels, heat pumps and electric vehicles. He had his Aston Martin altered to run on bioethanol derived from surplus English white wine and fermented whey.
As King, Charles will have the opportunity to lead by example on a larger scale. How about making all royal palaces and castles carbon neutral? Being driven only in electric cars? Making long journeys within Britain by train, not plane? Serving meat less often at state banquets? He’s bound to have a larger carbon footprint than the rest of us – but, equally, he could cut his by more than we can cut ours.
It’s likely that the fate of the planet will be decided during Charles’s reign. What could be better than to be seen today, and remembered in centuries to come, as the King who stood firmly on the right side of history?
This analysis was first published by The New European