LONDON — More than 2.6 million British television viewers voted 2-to-1 Tuesday night to keep the monarchy, in what organizers claimed was the world's largest TV debate.
But the 3,000-strong studio audience gave a decisive thumbs down when asked to vote on whether Prince Charles, heir to the throne, should become king. Members of the audience indicated that Charles's marital infidelity was a major reason why he should not be king. Instead, they opted for his son Prince William as the next sovereign.
The viewers heard a panel of monarchists and republicans debate the future of the British royal family. During the two-hour program, viewers phoned in to say whether or not they wanted the monarchy to continue.
Except for Scotland, which voted to get rid of the monarchy, all regions of the United Kingdom indicated a strong preference for keeping a royal family, with a sovereign as head of state.
But the poll indicated that Britons want the royal family scaled down and they think royals should pay their own way, unsupported by taxes.
Scotland is a comparatively late addition to the British realm - it joined in 1603. Over the centuries, many Scots have complained that English monarchs have no right to rule Scotland.
The telephone poll, which was supplemented by a formal nationwide opinion survey by the highly regarded MORI organization, was the biggest of its kind ever held in Britain.
At times, the televised debate was rowdy and ill-tempered. Panelist Sir Bernard Ingham, former press secretary to Margaret Thatcher when she was prime minister, called it "a disgrace," likening the debate to a pub brawl.
Royal watchers say the TV debate's main significance was that it launched the future of the monarchy squarely into the public arena. Harold Brooks-Baker, editor of Burke's Peerage, said: "I think it is now inevitable that both houses of Parliament will debate the monarchy's future.