The attempt by Mr. Beattie to revive the debate was all the more extraordinary given that interest in a republic is everywhere in decline. We have seen this in polling in the states, in particular in Victoria and Western Australia.
The latest Newspoll, published in The Australian on Australia Day, 26 January, 2005, is in line with this trend. To the usual very general question which does not specify a model, and does not mention cost, support for a pie- in- the- sky republic has fallen to a 12 year low.
From an all time high in September,1997 of 56 per cent, support is now down to 46 per cent. Once a model is specified , and the details known, this would fall further if there were to be a referendum, certainly more than in the 1999 referendum, where the vote fell to less than 45 per cent, notwith standing overwhelming political and media support for the specific model.
The trend in this poll is consistent with others, particularly in the gender and age break down. Republicanism is strongest among middle aged males and Labor voters. Support is weakest among women, the old, and the young.
The poll breaks down support into those strongly in favour,32 per cent, and those partly in favour, 14 per cent. There are two comments worth making on the breakdown. Those who are only partly in favour can easily switch to a No vote in a referendum.
And even those strongly in favour are often even more strongly opposed to a specific model. Voting in a referendum is similar to the two party preferred vote, which results from the distribution of preferences. Instead of recording our preferences as we do in an election, these are determined beforehand.As a result, the present constitution emerged as the clear preference of a significant majority in 1999.
To return to the poll, only 26 per cent of women and 28 per cent of the young are strongly in favour of a republic. This disinterest among the young was already evident in pre referndum polling, and once again demonstrates that some prominent republicans in politics and the media were in error to assume the young are their natural field of support.
And in significant blow to republican politicians in the Liberal Party,and the few in the National Party, only 18 per cent of coalition voters strongly support a republic. The Australian said support had crashed to a five year low, and this is a significant blow to republicans.
In response to a question from the Chief Political Reporter of The Australian, Steve Lewis, I said that the decline was not entirely surprising. Referring to the proposal advanced by Mr. Latham before the election for three votes on the republic, I said that the poll demonstrated the fact that the public is not interested in change to our successful constitutional system. The ARM said that they still think a majority support a republic, and they hope this may be a blip.