Sexism and support for the rules of succession

A poll on the reforms to the royal succession rules has shown the extent to which some men still think women should have lower priority in line to the throne.

When asked by YouGov whether men and women should be treated equally in the succession, five in six women agreed, but only two thirds of men supported the change – a gap of 17 points:

It certainly looks like sexism: men are significantly more likely to think that royal women shouldn’t have the same entitlements as royal men. Could there be another explanation?

Perhaps men are less likely to agree because they think the monarchy should be abolished entirely rather than reformed. But another poll, in April, found that men and women were equally likely (63%) to think that Britain would be worse off without a Royal Family, so it can’t be that.

Alternatively, maybe the response isn’t about sexism so much as about tradition. Perhaps men are more likely to think that, since the monarchy represents continuity with the past, it should be changed as little as possible. So their weaker support wouldn’t be because they don’t trust women to rule them, but because they don’t believe in changing the rules.

But another question in the YouGov poll, on support for changing the rule about marrying Catholics, undermines this. Men are slightly less supportive than women, but only by seven points. Given that this change would have much greater constitutional significance, there’s no way attachment to tradition can explain the response to the gender question.

Finally, we might suggest it’s about salience. Perhaps men are less interested in the monarchy, and so don’t want the government spending time amending it.

But even if this were true it couldn’t explain the gap in the gender question, for two reasons. Firstly, the gender question doesn’t explicitly ask whether the rules should be changed, but only whether men and women should be treated equally. Secondly, there’s again salience argument can’t account for why the Catholic question should produce a much smaller gap than the gender question.

So having considered alternative explanations, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the debate about the succession has exposed a sexist view that some men continue to hold: that men are more suited than women to be our rulers.

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