Royal Family wins big backing in poll

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THE ROYAL Family, and the Princess of Wales in particular, look almost indestructible. Despite a week of damaging reports - in which the princess was forced to deny that she had made harassing phone calls - an NOP poll for the Independent on Sunday has found that only one in five Britons wants the monarchy to end even when the Queen dies.

Support for the monarchy cuts across age, social class and political allegiance. The under- 35s and Labour voters are most likely to want the monarchy abolished, but even among these groups a clear majority supports its indefinite continuation.

The public's sympathy for the Princess of Wales is apparently undiminished. Only 8 per cent blame her alone for the break-up of her marriage to Prince Charles (against 20 per cent who blame him alone) and only 17 per cent agree that she has been trying to damage the Royal Family.

But if they are firm in their support for the monarchy, the British are less confident of its survival. Asked if they thought Britain would still be a monarchy half a century from now, 35 per cent said it would not, 56 per cent that it would. Women, though more pro-royalist than men, were less certain of the Crown's survival - only half thought it would still be around in 50 years' time. And, among the over-55s those predicting survival dropped to 47 per cent.

The poll suggests that despite the nation's largely pro-royalist mood, the monarchy could run into trouble. Asked how much respect they had for the monarchy, 63 per cent said they had 'a great deal' or 'a fair amount' while 39 per cent had 'not very much' or 'none at all'. There was a sharp divide between the age groups. Among the over-55s, only a quarter said they had little or no respect; among the under-35s, this proportion rose to more than half.

The majority of people in all groups are now reconciled to another royal divorce. More than two in three agreed that Charles and Diana should now get divorced while fewer than one in five disagreed. The under-35s, predictably, were the strongest supporters of a divorce while women were just as likely to be in favour as men.

Most people believe that divorce should not bar Charles from succeeding the Queen on the throne. Though 36 per cent agreed that, as a divorced man, he should not become King, 57 per cent disagreed. Among the over-55s, however, the proportion saying that he should not take the throne rises to 43 per cent (against 48 per cent saying that he should). Working-class people are also above average in their opposition to a divorced Charles becoming King, though they are less likely than the middle classes to oppose a divorce.

Women are another group who take a relatively severe view of the present heir to the throne. They are more likely than men to blame Charles alone for the break-up; they are also more likely (39 per cent against 32 per cent of men) to say that, after a divorce, he should not become King.

If the monarchy were abolished and Britain became a republic, who would become president? NOP gave people a list of seven names. They included two former Tory leaders (Lady Thatcher and Edward Heath), two Labour politicians (Neil Kinnock and Tony Benn) and two former centre party leaders (David Steel and David Owen). Between them, these six politicians could muster only 35 per cent of the votes, with Lady Thatcher doing best with 12 per cent. The seventh name - Princess Anne - easily topped the poll with 28 per cent (37 per cent did not fancy any of the seven). Among women, she did better still, with 36 per cent, against 29 per cent for the six politicians combined. Even among the under-35s, she comfortably came top. And that, perhaps, is the most eloquent testimony to the continuing British affection for the Royal Family.

NOP interviewed a quota sample of 1,122 adults aged 18-plus in 54 constituencies across Britain on Friday. Data were weighted to match the profile of the population as a whole.

(Photograph omitted)