Pre-diamond jubilee surge in royalism hides bad news for Prince Charles, with almost half wanting succession to jump to William
As the Queen prepares to celebrates her diamond jubilee the royal family is enjoying record popularity, but things could get a good deal more complicated after she leaves the scene, according to a new Guardian/ICM poll.
A mere 22% of respondents say that Britain would be better off without the monarchy, as against an overwhelming majority of 69% who say the country would be worse off. This crushing 47-point royalist margin is the largest chalked up on any of the 12 occasions since 1997 on which ICM has previously asked the identical question.
Pro-royal feeling is spread remarkably equally among the social classes, and across the regions of England and Wales. It is less marked in Scotland – where 36% say the country would be better off without the Windsors – but even there a solid 50% feel the opposite way. Support is stronger among the older, and especially Conservative voters, among whom it reaches 82%. But across every age group and among Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters alike, the monarchy is enjoying solid support.
But if “long to reign over us” is the diamond jubilee sentiment, that could be partly out of nervousness about what is coming next. When voters were asked what should happen when the Queen eventually dies or abdicates, they remain resolutely anti-republican, with just 10% saying Britain should elect a head of state instead of having a new monarch. But if there is support for the hereditary principle, there is much less for what it means in practice. Only 39% want the crown to pass to Prince Charles in line with the succession, as against 48% who want it to skip a generation and pass straight to Prince William.
There is no sign whatsoever of the son setting himself up as a young pretender against the father, but should he be tempted the poll suggests he could count on solid support among younger voters, Labour supporters and the C2DE social grades which sit at the bottom of the National Statistics pyramid. An outright majority of 50% of each of these groups indicate a preference for a premature coronation of William V.
The woman in charge of “the firm” has long been among its most popular members. According to Ipsos Mori data from the 1980s and 90s, the person who most often rivalled her ratings was Diana, a finding that may excite the wilder conspiracy theorists. But in this, as in all matters concerning the length of a reign which stretches back to the very infancy of British polling, we are dependent on occasional attitudinal snapshots rather than the sort of month-in-month-out series available on voting intention.
The earliest data which the Guardian could track down was not about British attitudes but American ones, just three months after the coronation of February 1953. The vast majority of respondents volunteered positive words from “charming” to “wonderful”. A mere 6% made negative remarks about monarchs in general, and a mere 1% ventured anything negative about the woman herself. A few years later in a 1957 Gallup poll, 83% Americans rated her to some degree favourably, against just 7% who lent the other way. Her stateside standing has rarely diminished, and she is by some margin the woman who has most often ranked on Gallup’s annual top 10 of people Americans admire.
Closer to home, there is little data from before the 1960s. One nugget we do have from before the Elizabethan age is from Gallup in 1946. Asked whom they most admired, 24% of voters volunteered Winston Churchill, while reigning monarch George VI and his Queen languished behind on 3%, below Clement Attlee, Field-Marshal Montgomery, George Bernard Shaw – and tied with Stalin. The questions are irregular and often inconsistently framed, but when set against this sepia snapshot about the old king, such ancient data as we do have on the Queen herself strongly suggests that she has consistently been more popular than her father.
The oldest information the Guardian could track down was from the British Election Study, which got going a decade into the Queen’s reign, just before the 1964 election which brought Harold Wilson to power. It asked about whether people felt the monarchy was very, quite or not at all important. As the 60s came and went, support for the Queen was remarkably resilient, with around 60% saying very as against around 15% who said not at all in every year except for 1969, when the anti-royal number briefly blipped up to a still underwhelming 27%.
A slightly more personal test of the Queen’s popularity, perhaps, is the public’s take on whether or not she deserved a pay rise. In 1969, Gallup found a plurality of 46% saying she deserved a pay rise. By 1971, the same company found fully 57% were ready to double her allowance to an annual £1m, which was a good deal more then than today.
Around the same time, we get the first tests of the idea of binning the crown entirely, and becoming a republic. In 1969, Gallup found that 18% would prefer a republic. The silver jubilee, the Sex Pistols, Diana and the golden jubilee all came and went without permanently altering that figure. In the week of the latter, an Ipsos Mori poll found 19% would prefer a republic. Indeed, the company asked the same question more than 20 times over the 90s and noughties and each time found the republican minority within three points of that 19% figure. Only in its most recent survey, conducted amid a mood of respect for the octogenarian woman and a sexagenarian monarch does it dip to 13%.
Swing to indifference
We can track rather more of the reign if we switch to a better off/worse off without the royals question, of the sort used in our survey on Thursday. Ipsos Mori asked that question throughout the 80s and 90s, and as fairytale weddings gave way to the divorces of Charles and Andrew, there was a steady swing away from the steadfast royalist “worse off” vote to a position of indifference. The “indifferents” fleetingly overtook the “worse offs” in the Queen’s “annus horribilis” of 1992 (when flames at Windsor Castle followed rows about her tax-exempt status), and then again just before Diana’s death. But in neither case did the hardline “better off without them” vote get enough traction to get beyond a fifth. And in both cases the royalists soon bounced back to a modest lead, even if they never quite got back to the scores of around 70% they had enjoyed in the mid-80s.
From the late 90s onward, we can use ICM’s own tracker, which forces a straight choice, with no indifference option. It has oscillated wildly, but never quite wildly enough to put the anti-royalists in the lead, or even to get the margin down to single figures. There was a bit of a monarchist moment in 1998 as the royals regained public affection after the traumas of Diana’s death, with the “worse off without them” lead surging to 44% before then falling back to around 20%. There was a brief boost from the golden jubilee in 2002, a brief dip (as on several polling indicators) in early 2005, before Charles’s marriage to Camilla, a prospect which stirred some old demons but which the polling suggests also lay them to rest, because the royal position immediately strengthened after the event. The monarchy surged further after William’s wedding last year, and now the gap has widened again.
The Queen’s personal rating, measured as the difference between the proportion satisfied and the proportion dissatisfied with the way she is doing her job, has not been measured since 2006, but the established trend at that point was running strongly in her favour, and the score itself was +78 percentage points. To put that in context, our Guardian/ICM this week gave scores respectively to David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg of -11, -12 and -27.
During the latter years of Victoria, the only previous monarch to have reached a diamond jubilee, resentment at the old Queen and the institution she represented spread among important sections of society, among whom republicanism became respectable. With her great-great granddaughter, however, from all the polling it would appear familiarity has bred the opposite of contempt
ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1002 adults aged over 18 from 18 to 20 May 2012. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.