Trust In Institutions Is Eroding On Both Sides Of The Pond, And The Queen Was Not Exempt
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Last Thursday, word of Queen Elizabeth II’s ailing health captured an international audience. In the United States, media outlets breathlessly covered the story for hours until the announcement of her death unleashed an even larger outpouring from leaders and citizens across the globe. Condolences eulogizing the life of the queen, however, buzzed alongside commentary criticizing the institution of the monarchy itself. And stateside, some wondered why a sizable share of Americans seemed so invested in the life of the leader of a country from which early Americans sought independence.
That tendency is particularly confusing when we don’t have nearly as much positive emotional investment in our own government institutions. Trust in American political structures is plummeting, and there is a growing awareness of societal inequities. But some dynamics at play in the United Kingdom may not be so removed from the existential crossroads Americans are facing in the States culturally and politically. An increasing disapproval of the monarchy among younger Britons suggests a common plot of crumbling institutional faith is unfolding in parallel on both sides of the pond.
On the whole, the crown isn’t necessarily in immediate crisis. According to a mid-May YouGov poll that surveyed Britons on whether they thought the monarchy should continue or be replaced with an elected head of state, 62 percent favored the crown, while a mere 22 percent preferred an elected leader. In the modern era, the monarch is by and large a ceremonial figurehead who symbolically oversees the army, heads the Church of England and sits as an aspirational, dignified role model meant to inspire the best of the British. Many Britons saw the queen in this light, and while her son Charles has historically not been the most popular royal — in May, YouGov reported that 54 percent of Britons held positive views of Charles and 47 percent held positive views of his wife, Camilla — Elizabeth II (81 percent), Prince William (75 percent) and Kate (70 percent) all clocked in much higher.
Following Elizabeth’s death, much of the news coverage has labeled the queen as a “stabilizing” or “steadfast” figure who represented continuity for Britain. After all, the vast majority of Britons (and the global population) living today were born after she inherited the crown. But some have pointed out that the gravitas of her reign whitewashed a lot of its colonial empire aftermath, which wasn’t really so stable.
And the queen’s youngest subjects viewed her reign and her family in the least favorable light. While the overall popularity of the British monarchs has remained relatively stagnant in prior YouGov polling over the past decade, a breakdown by age group reveals a dramatic, consistent shift among younger Britons in the years since. Whereas 64 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds favored the monarchy in a May-June 2012 survey, just 33 percent agreed in 2022. And while only 23 percent preferred an elected head of state in May-June 2012, that number rose to 31 percent this May. In other words, the gleaming facade of royalty appears to be tarnishing among Britain’s next generation, which various commentators attribute to a host of dynamics and events: calls to recognize colonialism’s damage, Prince Andrew’s Jeffrey Epstein-affiliated sexual-assault case and a general distaste for vastly unequal hereditary hierarchy facilitated by taxpayer dollars.
But, if you ask most Americans, the shiny promise of a governmental system anchored by an elected leader isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either. As in Britain, the dissatisfaction is especially strong among the young. According to a New York Times/Siena College poll from July, about 67 percent of American voters under 30 said that this country’s governmental structure needs to be completely replaced or majorly reformed, and even 43 percent of U.S. voters 65 and over — by far the least likely to say such change was needed — agreed. Still, other responses from the survey broken down by age reveal just how cynical younger Americans are toward both the current state of the country and the possibility of remedying it. Just 28 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds thought that the nation’s political system could address its problems, versus 47 percent of those 65 and over who agreed. Meanwhile, only 49 percent under 30 have faith that voting in elections lets everyday people make a difference in their government, compared with a solid 81 percent of the oldest age group.
That open attitude toward change is something young Britons and young Americans have in common. Both groups voice a straightforward desire to see refreshed approaches in tackling key issues at the bedrock of national identity. Britons, echoing their American counterparts, display less loyalty toward institutions beyond Buckingham Palace. In 2021, the Pew Research Center found that, across the board, a similar percentage of 18- to 29-year-olds said their country would ultimately benefit from a willingness to change its traditions: 78 percent in the U.S. and 76 percent in the U.K.
Of course, the exact political priorities and opinions each cohort has varies based on different national issues and pasts, but both demonstrate a stronger willingness to look their respective histories in the eye, at least relative to their older counterparts. For example, according to a University of Massachusetts Amherst poll in April 2021, 18- to 29-year-old Americans were almost twice as likely (57 percent) as those 55 and over (30 percent) to say that the United States should pay reparations to descendants of enslaved people. Meanwhile, a YouGov survey from 2019 reported that 18 percent of Britons age 18 to 24 consider the British empire a proud part of the country’s history; that number more than doubled among those over 65 (43 percent).
The late queen was lauded during her life for her strong ability to stay “apolitical” and “neutral.” Looking ahead, however, younger Britons expressed in a YouGov poll that they don’t see an issue with King Charles III taking a fresh approach: 70 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds said it would be appropriate for him to stay vocal on issues he’s cared about and spoken of before, while 51 of those over 65 said such conduct would be inappropriate, suggesting an approach in line with his mother’s.
At 73, Charles hardly counts as a “young person,” but if he chooses to maintain a personal norm on politics different from the queen’s, that could make him a monarch at least somewhat more in line with the younger generation’s views. Still, whether older political figures can bring the changes young people in the U.K. and U.S. clearly want remains to be seen.
Other polling bites
- An Aug. 1-14 study from Pew highlights how partisan divides stack up on policy ideas surrounding immigration. A sweeping majority (79 percent) of Republicans said increasing deportations for undocumented immigrants was at least a somewhat important policy goal, while about half as many (39 percent) Democrats agreed. Additionally, a majority of Americans on both sides of the aisle support greater security at the Southern border, although that jumps to almost all (91 percent) Republicans versus about 3 in 5 (59 percent) Democrats.
- As we mark two and a half years since many office workers first adjusted to new in-person, hybrid and remote protocols, American employees’ worries about COVID-19 have tapered overall, according to a Gallup poll conducted July 26-Aug. 2. The share of the American workforce very or moderately concerned about coronavirus exposure on the job has reached a low of 33 percent, down considerably from its peak of 51 percent in July 2020, although that number continues to look different across gender, party ID and job type. Working women (41 percent) are considerably more concerned than working men (26 percent) about exposure, and employed Democrats (51 percent) are more than three times as likely as their Republican counterparts (14 percent) to say they’re worried. Meanwhile, concern among blue-collar (24 percent) and white-collar (33 percent) employees has dwindled, although the survey did break out two specific fields where worries remain higher than that of the overall share of workers (33 percent): Americans working in health care (42 percent) and education (53 percent).
- When it comes to healthy eating, most Americans would prefer to eat produce and fresh foods over going on diets. Per an Aug. 29-30 Morning Consult poll, 91 percent of adults agree that eating fruits and vegetables is at least somewhat necessary for a healthy lifestyle, whereas far fewer said the same about dieting (28 percent) or intermittent fasting (37 percent). Overall, 80 percent reported that major reasons to eat healthy included feeling good long-term, while 70 percent of baby boomers also said not getting sick was a huge motivation. Meanwhile, Gen Z and millennials were the most likely to note that eating healthy helped them feel their best mentally (73 percent), look their best (60 percent) and fuel fitness performance (46 percent).
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,1 42.3 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 53.1 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.8 percentage points). At this time last week, 42.4 percent approved and 53.2 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -10.8 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 40.2 percent and a disapproval rating of 55.2 percent, for a net approval rating of -15.0 points.
In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot,2 Democrats currently lead by 1.4 points (44.8 percent to 43.4 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 1.2 points (44.9 percent to 43.7 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 0.5 points (43.9 percent to 43.4 percent).