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Attitudes towards an Australian Republic - UMR research

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For the first time, the summary of the research on attitudes towards an Australian republic done by UMR Research in October last year has been released, including UMR's detailed methodology.

IT SHOWS 59 per cent of Australians support an independent Australian republic, as well as many other interesting findings.

The survey also reveals, for instance, that Australians greatly prefer direct election, they can't stand the thought of Prince Charles as Australia's head of state, are not normally terribly knowledgeable about the Constitution,  don't follow the news overmuch, prefer a minimalist approach to constitutional change and thought that the last referendum failed because it had the wrong model.

Read the summary of the report below:

Attitudes towards an Australian Republic - summary

October 2009

Prepared By UMR Research Pty Ltd
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Survey Fact Sheet
This report presents the findings of a survey conducted by UMR Research amongst 1,000 adult Australians in October 2009 with the purpose of gauging the mood and views across the nation about becoming a republic and aiming for a second referendum on the issue sometime during the next parliamentary term.

Survey specifications:

  • 1000 online interviews

  • Age: 18+

  • Fieldwork: 16-21 October 2009

  • Data is weighted and matched with ABS census data to ensure a nationally representative sample

  • Online panel members are primarily recruited offline and by invitation only ruling out self-selection issues associated with online methodologies

  • The sample has had a small weight applied to it to ensure that it matches the age, sex, state and regional/metro distribution of the Australian population aged 18 or over.  The sample was also checked by political preference and, without any further alteration, was found to be in line with published political polls (ACNielson and Newspoll) at the time of fieldwork.

  • Maximum margin of error at 95% confidence level: ±3.1%

  • Note: that the sample of 1,000 allows reliable stand-alone reads of opinions in New South Wales and Victoria and a reasonably reliable indicative measure of opinions in Queensland.  However, the sample sizes in other states and the territories are not large enough to permit specific reporting of their results.

Summary of main points

  • Across Australia, 59% support and 33% oppose a republic.  The strongest support is among the 50-69 age group. Generally, there is little difference between age groups between younger and older Australians, even the over 70s, but older people are also more likely to oppose a republic while younger people are more likely to be unsure.  Men tend to be more supportive than women.

  • The main reasons for supporting a republic are that it is now time to become independent from Britain and stand on our own and that the monarchy is outdated and irrelevant

  • Direct election and “minimal change” models are strongly preferred.

  • A high percentage of Australians know little about current constitutional arrangements such as the selection and role of governors-general or even who the head of state of Australia is. However, many become interested in the republic issue once they are encouraged to focus on it.

  • A big majority of Australians believe that the 1999 referendum failed because the wrong model was put to the people. In fact, one quarter of people who voted “no” in that referendum indicate that they supported a republic but did not like the model that was on offer.

  • Australians are equally divided between feeling comfortable and uncomfortable in having Queen Elizabeth as head of state but they divide about one to two against feeling comfortable about Prince Charles taking over.

  • We are a country which has proven it can stand alone and compete with other nations on an equal footing. We should have our own head of state and be ruled according to our own values, traditions and laws without having to answer to a foreign king of queen.

  • The Australian head of state should be an Australian, not an English king or queen.

  • Replacing the British monarch with an Australia president does not deny our British heritage but it updates it to match the reality of today.

  • Australia has earned her right to stand alone as a fully independent democracy. We have our own identity within the global community.

  • After the full sets of arguments for and against were tested, support for a republic increased by 2% to 61% and opposition dropped by 3% down to 30%, a net change of 5%.  Support fell marginally amongst the under 30s but rose among older people.  Overall, 15% of those opposed to a republic earlier in the survey changed to support it after completing the questionnaire.

  • Just under one in five Australians claims to follow national news and current affairs “very closely” and another two in five “fairly closely”, making a total of 56%.  These figures, however, rise sharply with age from 43% among the under 30s to 80% among people aged 70 or over.

Key Findings

  • The idea of an Australian republic retains the support of a clear majority of people across the nation, with 59% supporting it and 33% opposing.

  • Support is stronger among men (63%) than women (55%) and in metro areas (64%) than regional areas (53%).

  • Support is fairly stable across age groups but opposition increases with age (with a greater number of younger people being undecided); however, even amongst the over 70s, a clear majority of 57% expresses support.

  • There was little difference between the levels of support measured in the larger states, NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

  • Support for a republic builds with interest in the subject – 64% of people who regard the issue as important support the republic, including 44% (about two thirds of them) who “strongly support” it while, amongst those who don’t consider it important, just 14% “strongly support” it and 42% “mildly support” it, which still gives a majority of 56%.

  • The belief that becoming a republic would mean not being able to participate in the Commonwealth Games and concerns about possible changes to the flag are an issue for some, as is, in the opinion of a few, the absence of an appealing model.

  • There is overwhelming support – 73% to 18% - for a direct election rather than an appointment model and this is consistent across all demographic and other groups cross-tabulated in this report, including all the groups the ARM needs to target.  In Queensland, the desire to directly choose a president is especially strong, with 79% preferring this option.

Amongst those who oppose a republic, 76% favour a direct election model.

  • Within the 73% favouring direct election, 47% favour election of a president from a list of candidates selected from a community consultation process, while 26% prefer the idea of electing someone from a list of candidates nominated by the federal parliament.

Recall of 1999 – most accept that the referendum failed because the wrong model was put forward.

  • About seven in ten (71%) of today’s adult population can recall voting in 1999; 52% say they voted “yes” for a republic, 43% say they voted “no” and 5% are unsure (it is common for people to forget how they voted several years earlier and especially in this case when several people are widely believed to have voted “no” despite wanting a republic, just not the model that was on offer).

  • Of those who remember voting in 1999, 25% indicate that they voted “no” even though they supported a republic but did not like the model that the referendum was offering.  This suggests that up to one quarter of 1999’s “no” voters may vote “yes” if a direct election model were on offer.

  • More than eight in ten of people who recall voting in 1999 accept a statement arguing that “The 1999 republican referendum failed because many who wanted a republic voted ‘no’ because, under the model that was offered, the president would be elected by a two-thirds majority of parliament rather than elected directly by the people” – 35% “strongly agree” and 47% “agree”.  It is, therefore, credible to explain the result of 1999 along these lines.

  • At present, 62% support holding another referendum between 2010 and 2013 and 30% oppose it.  This includes 89% of people who now support a republic and 22% of people who oppose it.

  • There is not much difference between the collective views of people who indicate that the republic is an important issue for them, of whom 67% support a referendum, and those who say it is not, amongst whom 61% express similar support.

There is widespread support for a three stage process of two plebiscites followed by a referendum

  • Australians want to be highly engaged in the process that would change their head of state.  This is strongly supported by the fact that, after reading the following: “Some have criticised the 1999 referendum process, because the Australian people did not vote to choose which republican model would be offered to them.  There is a plan that next time, three votes will be taken: First, there will be a plebiscite to determine whether a majority of the people want a republic. If, and only if, a majority does, a second plebiscite will determine which republican model will be offered. The selected model will then be offered on a “yes or no” basis in the third final referendum.  ” - 72% indicate that the stated process would be a “good idea” and only 16% think it would be a “bad idea”.

  • Significantly, the groups least likely to feel positive about this process are younger people and, especially, people who don’t follow news and current affairs closely. However, even amongst these groups, far more people think this process would be a “good idea” than a “bad idea”.  In contrast to support for a republic, approval of this three stage process increases slightly with age.

Many have very little constitutional understanding about our head of state.

  • When asked whether the head of state is the prime minister, the British monarch or the governor-general, only 40% give the correct answer.  Nearly as many, 38%, think the governor-general is head of state while 17% are way off the mark and say it is the PM and another 5% admit they are unsure.

  • Australians are divided equally as to whether or not they are comfortable with the British monarch being their head of state, with 41% saying they are comfortable and 41% uncomfortable with this.  Only 19% of republicans are comfortable with this, while 6% of monarchists somehow are not. Younger people are most likely to be lukewarm about this – 39% comfortable, 44% uncomfortable.

  • While indifferent to Queen Elizabeth being head of state, Australians are much less accepting of Prince Charles taking over; just 29% feeling comfortable and 59% saying they are uncomfortable about this.

  • Particularly uncomfortable about this are people who don’t follow news and current affairs closely, among whom only 22% are comfortable and 56% uncomfortable.

  • Another point on which many people remain unaware is how the governor-general is selected – just 50% claim to be aware, including only 30% of under 30s.

  • When told that the prime minister alone selects the governor-general, most feel uncomfortable – 54% - only about one-third feel comfortable (34%).  Those who oppose a republic are more likely to feel uncomfortable (47%) rather than comfortable (42%) with this.

  • Just over one-third believe (with another 11% being unsure) that becoming a republic would end our membership of the Commonwealth and, most importantly, our ability to participate in the Commonwealth Games.  This leaves barely more than half - 55% - aware that this would not be the case. Ignorance of this correlates with age, with 50% of the under 30s, down to 18% of the over 70s, knowing the true situation.

Minimal change is generally preferred

  • By 68% to 29%, people, if we become a republic, would prefer minimal changes to our political system rather than more fundamental change.

  • Both republicans (73%) and people who oppose a republic (70%) hold this view in relatively even proportions.  Looking at the tabular breakdowns, the main correlation apparent on this question relates to how closely people follow the news and current affairs – the more closely people follow the news, the more likely they are to prefer minimal change.

  • However, people tend to be comfortable with the idea of the national president having a role in promoting Australian commercial, political and cultural interests both at home and overseas.

  • Generally, the arguments in favour of a republic are considered “convincing” by a significantly greater proportion of people, with more emotional arguments that portray Australians as having earned independence having the greatest appeal.

  • After hearing both sets of arguments, net support for a republic increases by 5%. The impact of the arguments was to increase support for a republic from 59% to 61% and to reduce opposition to it from 33% down to 30%, a change of net support from +26% to +31%.

  • Of people who early in the survey said they support a republic, 3% moved to the oppose column but 15% of “opposers’” changed to become supporters.  Support increased evenly between the sexes and between metropolitan and regional dwellers and, somewhat surprisingly, amongst every age group from 30 onwards while it fell marginally amongst the under 30s.


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