Opinion: After the coronation of King Charles III, questions regarding Commonwealth countries’ continued loyalty to the British crown are once again in the public arena.
Support for the monarchy varies widely across Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The majority of Australians support a republic, and New Zealand retains ‘God Save the Queen’ (now ‘God Save the King’) as its second national anthem.
Research has found that support for or against the monarchy seems to be more based on affective, symbolic factors than rational or pragmatic concerns.
For example, some people’s reluctance to break away from the monarchy could be seen as a nationalist response to growing ethnic diversity and the perception of a cultural threat.
Citizens favouring the monarchy are more likely to display negative sentiments towards cultural groups they are not a part of – Asians and Indigenous Australians in Australia, and Quebecers and Indigenous peoples in Canada.
Over decades, cultural diversity in Australia, Canada and New Zealand has de-emphasised the sense of a British heritage.
Instead, all three countries have seen increased immigration through the second half of the 20th Century, challenging a collective identity that had previously been articulated around Britishness.
Those triggered by growing ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity in their country are therefore more likely to support the crown as a symbol of their British heritage.
People displaying pro-immigration attitudes are generally less supportive of monarchy in Australia and Canada, although the immigration issue does not seem to be linked to the issue of monarchy in New Zealand.
An analysis of national electoral studies in each country reveals changing levels of support for the monarchy.
It found the majority of Australians support a republic, although support has softened since the failed 1999 referendum.
In Canada, support for the monarchy is slightly higher, but has decreased drastically since the end of the 1980s.
This drop in support coincided with a period of constitutional politics, marked by Canada’s patriation of the Constitution in 1982 — allowing for changes to the Constitution to be made in Canada rather than only through the parliament of the United Kingdom.
Today, only a slight majority of Canadians favour retaining the monarch as the head of state.
The story differs in New Zealand, where most citizens still prefer to retain their ties to the British monarch.
In New Zealand whether the country should become a republic is less of a divisive issue, as shown by its more stable support for the monarchy over time.
To better understand how growing cultural diversity can trigger a nationalist response and loyalty to the crown, it is helpful to understand the idea of ethnic versus civic nationalism.
Ethnic nationalism is based on cultural unity, people are considered to be part of the same society on ethnic grounds, for example if they have a shared ancestry, language or culture.
In civic nationalism inclusion is based on birth or other legally established procedures. Under this definition anyone could potentially become an Australian, Canadian or New Zealand citizen.
These concepts of the nation are often intertwined and all forms of nationalism lie somewhere along the ethnic-civic continuum.
But for those who hold a more ethnic concept of their nation, increasing cultural diversity could make them feel threatened. This could explain in part how cultural diversity and support of the monarchy might interact.
It is hard to predict what will happen in these Commonwealth realms from now on. Canada, Australia and New Zealand will likely continue to become more culturally diverse.
Whether future generations will attach as much importance to the institution of the monarchy and what they see it symbolising as their forebears did also remains to be seen.
Catherine Ouellet is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto and upcoming Assistant Professor at the Université de Montréal. She undertook her masters degree in Political Science at Université Laval. Her research focuses on Quebec and Canadian politics, lifestyle, political culture and public opinion.
Nadjim Fréchet is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at the Université de Montréal. He earned his masters degree in Political Science at Université Laval. His research interests include public opinion, ideology, political parties and quantitative methods.
Associate Professor Yannick Dufresne is in the Department of Political Science at Université Laval, and holder of the Teaching Leadership Chair (CLE) in Digital Social Sciences. His research interests include public opinion, electoral behaviour, quantitative methods, and Quebec and Canadian politics.
They declared they have no conflict of interest and did not receive any specific funds.