Do Brits Still Want the Monarchy? What Polls Say Ahead of Charles’ Coronation
Since the death of Queen Elizabeth II last year, the institution has continued to enjoy broad, if waning, support.
When it was reported over the weekend that the British public would be “called upon” to swear an oath of allegiance to King Charles III during his May 6 coronation, a fierce backlash ensued. British lawmakers, royal observers, and commentators alike dubbed the idea “half-cocked,” “odd,” and “tone-deaf.” (The British government later clarified that it was an invitation to participate rather than an expectation.) What had been proposed as a way to give ordinary people a more formal role in the coronation only appeared to further highlight for some just how seemingly strange and anachronistic the whole spectacle is.
The controversy also underscored Britain’s complex views toward the monarchy. Since the death of Queen Elizabeth II last year, the institution has continued to enjoy broad support. However, a recent survey by the British pollster YouGov shows that support has declined from 62% to 58%. Another survey from the National Center for Social Research found that while 55% of the British public consider the monarchy to be important, those who say that its retention is “very important” stood at just 29%, the lowest proportion on record. That suggests a degree of indifference from a considerable number of Brits when it comes to sticking with the royal family.
Opponents of the monarchy believe that time is on their side. As they see it, Queen Elizabeth was the royal family’s star player who was widely admired by royalists and anti-royalists alike. Though Charles’ personal approval rating has improved recently to 62%, it scarcely rivals that of the late queen. “There are plenty of criticisms made about Charles, but he just isn’t the queen,” says Graham Smith, the chief executive of the anti-monarchy group Republic and the author of the forthcoming book, Abolish the Monarchy. “And that’s his main problem.”
This problem stems from a number of key differences between the two monarchs. Whereas the queen largely kept her personal views on most matters to herself, Charles’s positions on everything from climate change and fox hunting to modern architecture and alternative medicine have long been in the public domain. It also hasn’t helped that so much of Charles’s private life as heir apparent has been on display for so many decades, from the revelations of infidelity during his marriage to Princess Diana to his fraught relationship with his youngest son, Prince Harry.
“The queen was this wonderful blank canvas,” says longtime royals expert Richard Fitzwilliams, on which Britons could project their own views and perceptions onto. In Charles, Britons have a more complex portrait—one that is widely seen as flawed, controversial, and even out of touch.
Anti-royalists such as Smith are seeking to take advantage. Republic is planning to stage a protest with as many as 1,000 participants expected along the coronation’s procession route. While Smith concedes it’s a small fraction of the millions who will watch the event, and that a majority of Britons still prefer the monarchy, he believes that this support is tepid. “We are not a country of royalists,” he says. “We are a country that is largely indifferent, but is coming around to looking more critically at this issue and as we see that happen more, I think we’ll see polling continue to drop.” Indeed, the cost of the monarchy has come under more intense scrutiny in recent years, as has the institution’s history with colonialism and the slave trade.
While the royal family under Charles has expressed a willingness to engage with the more sordid parts of the monarchy’s past, it hasn’t meaningfully waded into the debate over its modern-day relevance. In a rare interview, Charles’s sister Princess Anne told the Canadian broadcaster CBC this week that while she has not personally engaged in conversations about the monarchy’s relevance, “It is perfectly true that there is a moment where you need to have that discussion,” adding that “the monarchy provides, with the constitution, a degree of long-term stability that is actually hard to come by any other way.”
The dip in support for the monarchy isn’t down to Charles’s ascension alone. The new king inherited the crown at a time when support for the monarchy was as low as it had ever been—a decline that has been accelerated in part by the downfall of Charles’s brother Prince Andrew over sexual assault allegations stemming from his friendship with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, as well as by the damaging revelations made in Prince Harry’s unsparing memoir, Spare. Nevertheless, the future of the institution may ultimately rest on Charles’s ability to persuade Britons—and, in particular, the country’s younger generations—of the institution’s value. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, just 32% believe that the monarchy should continue, according to YouGov, compared to 38% who believe it should be abolished altogether.
Whether younger Britons’ perceptions change over the next couple of decades could come to define Charles’s legacy—one that, unlike his mother, he won’t have a lifetime to shape. “Usually as people get older, they become more conservative,” Fitzwilliams says, noting that support for the monarchy appears to correlate with age. But “it doesn’t guarantee it will happen in the future.”