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Majority versus plurality
One reader asks via email why the Republican Movement continues to campaign for a republic, while the "majority" of New Zealanders still support the monarchy, particularly on the last poll on the issue by Research NZ. This is annoying, not simply because there is not a majority of support for the monarchy, but because there are plenty of issues that don't achieve the golden 50% mark yet, overtime, become accepted by the general public.
The first point to make is that only Chairman of the Monarchist League, Noel Cox, thinks that there is a majority of support for the monarchy, the poll found 48% support the monarchy. While there are legitimate arguments - made here and elsewhere - to be had over the question and its respondents (the two key determinants in a poll, along with what the respondents actually think) the simple fact is that only a plurality of respondents supported the monarchy, not a majority*.
The second point to make is that this is not unusual. There have been a number of polls in the last eight years that have shown that there is not a majority in favour of a republic:
- December 2008: Research NZ poll (48% favour monarchy)
- April 2008: Curia Market Research poll (43% favour monarchy)
- January 2006: Sunday Star-Times poll (47% favour monarchy)
- November 2005: New Zealand Electoral Study survey (48% favour monarchy)
- August 2004: National Business Review poll (46% favour monarchy)
- December 2000: New Zealand Herald poll (47% favour monarchy)
As you can see, out of the 21 polls conducted since 2000 on the republic issue, 6 show the monarchy not having a majority, while most others show a slim majority (i.e. 50%~). Only a few show an outright majority - mainly internet polls and the TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll.
Why does this matter? After all, opinion polls can be notoriously unreliable tools to measure public opinion by, and as mentioned above are often determined more by the respondents selected and questions asked than actual opinions on the subject.
It matters because, ironically, some supporters of the monarchy believe that a majority of New Zealanders supporting the status quo means there shouldn't be any debate on the issue (contrast this with the Australian monarchists, who are constantly arguing republicans are too divided and that there isn't a majority of support for a republic in Australia, while support for the monarchy lingers around 28 - 33% in polls - a point lost on them when they argue the 1999 referendum was an affirmation of Australians support for the monarchy). Noel Cox even went so far as to claim that "[t]rying to force New Zealand to become a republic against the wishes of the majority would create instability."
This statement is simply laughable. No-one is trying to force New Zealand to become a republic. Even the previous government - accused of the absurd term of "republicanism by stealth" - put all of its allegedly republican policies in writing before elections were held. The Republican Movement exists to convince our fellow countrymen and women that a republic is the right choice to make, much in the same way as any other organisation in a democratic society does.
A majority simply means you have a larger mob, it does not make you right - the same would be true regardless of whether support for a republic was in the majority or plurality. Neither does it mean outright devotion to one particular point of view - for example, a majority of New Zealanders do not think the monarchy is relevant, according to a TVNZ poll. As the Australians found in 1999, a majority of support for a concept like republicanism does not translate into support at the ballot box either - although as Graham Smith notes, Australians rejected the republic on offer in 1999, they didn't affirm their support for the monarchy. A majority is merely the easiest means to making decisions in a democracy. It is a blunt object, not perfect but nonetheless the only workable solution for decision making where there is a wide diversity of views.
*For some reason some monarchists think undecided respondents are always going to support the monarchy, creating a majority. This is statistically incorrect, and as the New Zealand Electoral Study (which allows respondents to rank their preferences between favour, strongly favour, etc) shows, those undecided do not necessarily support the monarchy. That's why they're undecided!