How strong is public support for the monarchy?

1 June 2012

With the Diamond Jubilee weekend just round the corner, there has been no shortage of opinion polls commissioned by the media to guage support the monarchy, and who they think ought to succeed the Queen on the throne.

But some of the claims have been considerably apart. To take just a few:

The Observer: "[The Jubilee has] left an awful lot of British anti-monarchists — anything from 22% to 50% of the population, according to recent polls — wondering where the dissent has gone."

Daily Express: "A YouGov opinion poll found that 57 per cent of Britons say they are proud of the Royal Family and three-quarters of the public feel the monarchy should be kept rather an elected head of state."

Philip Collins in the Times: "Now, 90 per cent of Britons want to keep the hereditary principle."

So why the differences? Full Fact has found in the past - particularly with polls on gay marriage - that the wording of the polling questions can create differences. Below are recent questions asked by six major polling organisations for various outlets, and the responses to each:

The polls were all conducted in April or May this year and each presents the latest such findings by the organisation. YouGovIpsos MORIPopulusICMAngus Reid and ComRes are included.

The lowest level of support - the 53 per cent registered by Angus Reid - is likely to be due to the third option presented to respondents.

The highest level of support - the 82 per cent registered by Populus - could be influenced by the lack of a don't know category. It is also the only question to involve the Queen mentioned as head of state rather than asking more broadly about the monarchist principle.

The highest level of republican support is registered by ICM at 22 per cent - although this question uses the term Royal Family unlike the other organisations.

Charles or William?

Asking the public whether Prince Charles or Prince William should succeed the Queen also produces a siginficant variance in results. Take the Telegraph this morning:

"Half of Britons want Prince of Wales to stand aside in favour of Duke of Cambridge."

Which became in the subheading:

"Nearly half of Britons believe the Prince of Wales ought to step aside in favour of his eldest son"

And by the body of the article:

"[a poll] shows the public to be evenly split about the idea of Charles stepping aside when the time comes - with 42% agreeing that he should, 44% disagreeing"

So a deeper reading of the Telegraph article slowly takes the reader away from the idea that 'half' of the public want the Prince of Wales to stand aside, before finally revealing that more people had registered support for Charles.

The poll used by the Telegraph was conducted by ComRes. That and the other polls on Charles versus William are shown below:

[by percentage points]

ComRes: Charles 44 - 42 William

YouGov: Charles 38 - 44 William

Ipsos MORI: Charles 51 - 40 William 

ICM: Charles 39 - 48 William

Angus Reid: Charles 31 - 51 William

Besides this ComRes poll, Ipsos MORI was the only company to put Charles ahead of William, while all the other polls gave the Duke of Cambridge the lead. This might be because of the wording of Ipsos MORI's question:

"Do you think that Prince Charles should or should not give up his right to be the next monarch in favour of his eldest son, Prince William?"

While most of the polls asked respondents simply whether they would prefer to see Charles or William succeed the Queen, this question mentions the Prince of Wales' right to succeed the Queen and whether it should be given up, which may influence answers.

Similarly, ComRes, who also showed a slim plurality in favour of a Charles succession, asked if respondents agreed or disagreed with:

"Prince Charles should step aside to allow Prince William to become King after the Queen's death"

Which again mentions the notion of Charles stepping aside. YouGov, Angus Reid and ICM simply asked about who should succeed the Queen.

So what about the claims from the Guardian and the Times?

Full Fact has been in touch with both journalists who made the claims of 50 per cent opposition and 90 per cent support, and we will update when they tell us what their sources were.

For now, the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that these figures are outliers, and that several major polls all broadly show a significant majority of the public support the monarchy, and that Prince William should succeed the Queen.

UPDATE (11 June 2012)

Some news outlets this morning reported that Charles is now seen as the 'preferred successor' to the Queen. This is based on a new YouGov poll which asked respondents the same question as their previous survey:

The findings back up the reports this morning although the large variation between the recent polls still suggests we should be cautious before drawing too many conclusions as yet on who the public would ideally 'like' to be the next monarch.

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