The telegenic Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their bouncing baby boy are doing more than selling magazines and promoting Australian tourism — they’re turning Australians under 30, who usually lean republican, into monarchists. The proportion of young Australians who support the monarchy has almost doubled in the past two years.
The latest Fairfax-Nielsen poll, released a day after Wills and Kate flew into Australia, shows that 60% of 18- to 24-year-olds support the current system. The poll is a sharp contrast to 2012, when a survey commissioned by the Australian Republican Movement from UMR polling found 31% of voters under the age of 30 supported the monarchy and 45% were in favour of becoming a republic.
Jai Martinkovits, the 26-year-old executive director for Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, told Crikey that Wills and Kate are partly responsible for the switch: “The fact that young royals are connecting with young people in Australia is definitely a factor impacting Australian support. It’s very encouraging [that] young people instinctively realise there’s a sense of service and duty that the royal family engages in.
“There has been a very definite trend, which has been an increase in liberal support … What we are seeing is the level of support amongst the youth growing. This represents a ticking time bomb for republicans because, apart from the very old, the next highest level of support is amongst the youth.”
The royals’ Australian visit has brought the republican debate back into the spotlight, with critics claiming the boost in pro-monarchy sentiment comes from their celebrity status. Sonia Feng, a 22-year-old republican involved in lobbying efforts, told Crikey: “There is a general celebrity culture about the royals and especially young royals — they’re very prolific in the media.
“A lot of people don’t actually think about the constitutional monarchy and what that actually is. They see these royal figures and they indulge in that celebrity culture, and there’s this great trust in them.”
Feng says young people who are charmed by images of the young Duke and Duchess haven’t really put much thought into what a republic would mean. “With the royals coming, it’s an image that is presented to us, and a lot of people remember them and indulge in their personalities and that’s all they ever know, because the monarchy has always been there in the background,” she said.
David Morris, national director of the Australian Republican Movement, says Wills, Kate and baby George are a distraction. “The mainstream media has become a real cheer squad for the celebrity monarchy,” he told Crikey. “Australia’s nationhood is not about celebrities from another country; it’s about who we are as a nation and where our allegiance lies.”
He says the real problem is young people’s apathy about the issue. “We have found amongst young people that there is a lack of engagement with the issue of the republic, [which is] very clear because the issue has been off the agenda for a long time — there has not been much discussion,” he said.
“Our research still shows support for a republic is two to one amongst young people; it’s just there is a huge proportion amongst young people who don’t have a view.”
For Martinkovits, the issue for young voters lies in their distrust of politicians and the current federal government. “Australians have a very low level of trust for politicians, and they don’t want to bear a system where you increase the power of the political class,” he said.
On this week’s episode of the ABC’s Q&A, feminist social commentator Eva Cox said the lack of support for a republic came from a distrust of politicians extending back to the 1999 referendum:
“People did not want to vote for a republic which actually had people elected by politicians. They did not want a head of state that was elected by politicians. Until we actually build up some trust in the government and elected politicians and the idea that people should be allowed to elect their own head of state, then I don’t think we’re going to get a republic.”