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Passing Fads – Why We Should Not Be (Immediately) Alarmed by Opinion Polls

Earlier this week, I wrote a brief report on the latest Ipsos poll conducted in Canada on behalf of Global News, which found that over half of respondents would like to see the Canadian monarchy abolished upon the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. This follows on from news that Australia’s Parliament was also largely in support of the establishment of an Australian republic.

As I hope would be expected of me, I took no joy in relaying either bits of news. While the futures of the Australian and Canadian Crowns are a matter for both nations respectively to decide upon themselves, as a monarchist I have little desire to see yet more republics spring into being like ugly choking weeds in otherwise beautiful gardens. I have never seen a country that was significantly improved by abolishing its monarchy, but I’ve seen plenty were ruined by it.

However, while I do express sincere disappointment in both these stories, I’d like to take my amateur journalist hat off and talk candidly as an individual.

These polls and opinions aren’t even worth the kilobytes they took up on the server, in the broad scheme of things.

One of the problems of living in a democratic age is that we come to be laden with the incorrect notion that just because 51% of the public support a given motion, it must go through. The mentality of “There are more of us than there are of you” is a dangerous one to have in politics because it permits thoughtless irrational action spurred by emotion and ignorance over informed thought and contemplation. It is undesirable for the voice of a single genius to be considered less than those of a hundred village idiots.

Fortunately, I am not the first moron to come across this problem. Thinkers as far back as Plato and Aristotle have been all too aware of the tyranny of the mob, and modern political thinkers have also been careful not to give too much power to democracy. It’s easy to forget that the American Founding Fathers devised the US Constitution specifically so that it wasn’t democratic, preferring instead a classical gentleman’s republic with built-in checks and balances and due separation of powers.

The same applies to the Canadian and Australian constitutions, which take inspiration from both the American and British models. While we live in an age where people are considered sovereign, they are not the sole source of authority. There are guards against sudden swings in public opinion from causing unforeseen damage against valuable governmental institutions in acts of pique or ignorance.

As such I do not expect that the results of this poll, or the sudden surge of republican sentiment in the Australian Parliament, will have any serious repercussions on either the Canadian monarchy or the Australian monarchy. Both their constitutions have been written in a way that such transient zeitgeists will splash against the rocks of governmental stability with no effect. The Crown will endure, as it always does and always must.

In Canada, a constitutional change such as the abolishment of monarchy must be approved not just by both Houses of the Canadian parliament, but also every subsequent parliament within each Canadian province. If so much as one parliament votes against the bill, it does not pass. Changes in the Australian constitution, meanwhile, must be approved by both the Government and a public referendum – this very detail saved the Australian monarchy once before in 1999, when the Government approved a republican constitution but were stopped when the referendum decided in favour of the monarchy.

Given that republican sentiment ebbs and flows like a political tide with each generation, this means the monarchy is much more stable than some may give credit.

One must also always keep in mind that opinion polls are not definitive either. The results are determined by who commissioned them, who chose to respond, their methodology, and the size and composition of their samples. As such opinion polls are not so much a means of predicting policy as a means of influencing it – convince people that they’re outnumbered and they may be more inclined to fall in line with the perceived trend.

There’s precedent as recent as this year with the EU referendum towards that end. Despite polls showing a (slim) Remain victory, everyone awoke bewildered to a not insubstantial Leave vote.

A Caveat

Before we all wipe our brows, breathe sighs of relief and retreat into the warm cocoon of complacency, however, I would like to share a quick word of warning to this as well.

Do not take anything for granted.

While opinion polls are not 100% accurate, that’s when they’re taken individually. As with all sciences, including social and political sciences, the more a result appears in different studies the more likely it is that the result reflects an objective reality. A single poll showing that 60% of respondents would like a republic is something to note, but not lose hair over. Several different polls all showing the same or similar results, however, is something that should be taken seriously as a warning.

It does indicate that there are serious doubts about the monarchy in that society.

Those dedicated to the preservation of monarchy should mark well significant dips in support for the Crown within society, and ask themselves seriously why such a result has cropped up. This in turn can help lead to decisions on how those dips can be best addressed.

For example, if a poll indicates people support a republic because it’s seen as contrary to modern sensibilities, correct the idea and show how a monarchy can not only co-exist with but support such beliefs.

If monarchists have any major weakness, it’s a lack of drive and initiative. Being supporters of a status quo, we’re not as quick to take up our banners and meet challenges as they come. We’ve come to expect that the monarchy will be as enduring as the sea, even when history has consistently mocked us for that view. This not an attitude to take if you wish success in the long term.

We must also be careful not to dismiss people expressing republican sentiments as mindless traitors. Each dedicated republican is a reasonable individual who has come to their conclusion through logical personal reflection. Rather than writing them off as a lost cause to be despised, we must work to reach out to these groups to better educate them about the monarchy and its role in modern society. We can ill afford to be snobs, we gain nothing by shouting in echo chambers.

I’m not convinced yet that Canada or Australia will become republics in our lifetime. For all the unfair sniggering levelled at Prince Charles, his accession will be smooth and his reign will be successful. However, I would still advise monarchists within Canada and Australia to be vigilant, and to ensure that the republicans are always on the back foot.

We don’t want Canadians and Australians to be merely benignly ambivalent to their monarchy. We want them to be excited and passionate about them.

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