Sunday, 7 August 2011

Capital Punishment and the Electorate

There’s been something of a campaign on death penalty proceeding over the last couple of weeks, headed by Guido Fawkes. A Mail On Sunday/Survation poll has now looked into the British public’s views on the subject.

  • 53.1% of respondents said they were in favour of the reintroduction of the death penalty, 33.7% said they were against and the rest said they didn’t know.
  • 62.9% of Males were in favour compared to 43.6% of females.
  • Support was linked to age with elder respondents typically being more in favour (61.9% in favour to 28.4% against in the 60+ age group compared to 44.9% in favour to 45.8% against amongst 18-24s).
  • Only 2010 Lib Dem supporters tended to be against with 43% against to 41.3% in favour. Labour supporters from that election were slightly in favour (45.3% to 38.8%) and Conservative (64.6% to 27.8%) and UKIP voters (77.4% to 11.3% albeit on a low base, so with a high margin of error) tended to be heavily in favour.
  • Absolute majorities were in favour of the death penalty in cases of mass murder and murder of a child, and large minorities were in favour of cases of terrorism, and repeat murder offences.
  • 48.5% of respondents thought that the death penalty would reduce the murder-rate.
None of these results are particularly surprising, polls have consistently shown voters as being in favour of the death penalty since time immemorial.

Given these views it may seem strange that no major British party advocates the death penalty. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, the polling also shows that better educated respondents tend to be more against and similarly political and media elites and political party activists tend to be more against than the public at large. The death penalty is a quintessential populist policy which is more popular amongst the less political educated (that is not to say that everyone who supports the death penalty is stupid, I have met Guido Fawkes, and he is many things, but thick is not one of them).

Another issue is that the European Commission on Human Rights bans it. You need to be in the ECHR to be in the EU and so bringing in the death penalty would bring in a whole raft of divisive and problematic issues for any party or government.

Lastly and probably most importantly, is that while support for the death penalty polls high it is a divisive and polarising issue. It is likely to lose votes for a party as well as gain them. Meanwhile because no party backs the death penalty there is no need to out-manoeuvre other parties on the issue. In other words, the public may be in favour, but as no major party is in favour supporters have no choice of party to support and therefore it does not exist as a factor of party competition.

Full data tables can be downloaded from

1 comment:

  1. Ultimate nitpicking Chris, but it's the European Convention on Human Rights, not Commission.