Opinion shifts towards a Great British republic

Attitudes to the monarchy have become more negative over the past decade, writes Robert Worcester
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FOR THE first time, the balance of public opinion is that Britain will not have a monarchy in 50 years' time, according to a MORI poll carried out exclusively for the Independent On Sunday. The survey found that only a third of the public now feel that the British monarchy has a long-term future, while 43 per cent say it does not.

Six years ago, in 1990, the balance of opinion was more than six to one that the monarchy would survive for another 50 years at least. Half thought it would last at least a century, compared with only one in five who thought it would not. These figures are now completely reversed, with exactly half the public thinking that there will not be a monarchy in the year 2096 while only one in five think there will be.

A decade ago, the numbers thinking Britain would be worse off without a monarchy exceeded those thinking it would be better off by a margin of 15-1. Now, the margin has fallen to 2-1 and nearly half the population has moved into a sort of middle ground, saying either that it would make no difference or that they don't know.

Among those aged 18 to 24, a quarter think Britain would be better off without a monarchy, against only a fifth saying it would be worse off. A clear majority are indifferent.

It is not the performance of the Queen which drives these views - 73 per cent are satisfied with the way she is doing her job, against only 16 per cent who are dissatisfied. These proportions, which are virtually the same as those recorded in 1992, are almost exactly reversed when people are asked if they are satisfied with the Government.

But for Prince Charles the picture is very different. Only 41 per cent are satisfied with the way he is doing his job as Prince of Wales, 47 per cent dissatisfied. This is sharply down from his ratings in 1992, when 58 per cent were satisfied and 32 per cent dissatisfied.

Expectations of him as a future king have declined even more dramatically. In 1991 nearly everybody, 81 per cent, thought he would make a good king, and only 5 per cent replied that he would make a bad one. Now the country is almost evenly divided - 41 per cent against 40 per cent.

Among women, the under-25s, working-class people and the Scots, those saying he would make a bad king exceed those saying he would be a good one.

There have been precipitous falls in the image of the Royal Family over the past six years. People were given a series of descriptions and asked to choose those that fitted. The numbers choosing "hard-working" was down 20 points, from 51 per cent to 31 per cent; "extravagant" jumped 19 points, from 16 per cent to 35 per cent; "irresponsible" 18 points, from two to 20 per cent. On all the positive attributes - "intelligent", "concerned about people in real need", "in touch with ordinary people", "have high moral standards", "broad-minded", "important to Britain", "highly respected" - the ratings are sharply down, by anything from nine to 38 points. And invariably, more people than in 1990 chose the negative attributes - "privileged", "bad for Britain's image", "lazy", and so on.

But is it all the fault of the press? Certainly, the public is highly critical of how it covers the monarchy. A majority agree that "I hardly ever believe what I read in the papers about the Royal Family" and two- thirds disagree that royalty "has no right to privacy from the press". And only 20 per cent agree that "I love reading stories in the paper about the Royal Family."

Yet as any newspaper editor knows, nothing boosts circulation like a good royal story. MORI interviewed face to face a representative quota sample of 1,165 adults aged 18-plus at 54 sampling points across Great Britain on February 7-9.

Robert M Worcester is Chairman of MORI.

Copyright: MORI/Independent on Sunday.

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