How much support is there for the death penalty?

Few would have predicted that a petition opposing the death penalty could collect more signatures than one to restore capital punishment. It’s surprising because the country is generally assumed to want to bring back death penalty, and restoration is only held back by politicians with different values.

The various polls on the death penalty suggest that restoration does indeed have general support. But that support isn’t overwhelming, and for a substantial proportion depends on certain conditions.

At a basic level, if we ask whether the death penalty should be permitted for certain, specific, crimes, we find pretty consistent support:

So there’s a clear majority in favour of restoration for some crimes.

Yet for this level of support, the phrasing does need to limit restoration to specific cases. If, instead of focusing on extreme cases, the question suggests bringing back the death penalty for murder in general, support is lower:

This reflects what we might expect: a sizable part of those who want restoration would only want the death penalty to be applicable in certain fairly extreme cases.

As we might also expect, the split between supporters and opponents has quite strong demographic differences. In general, it’s the older and those in social groups D and E who support restoration.

That may not be surprising, but there is also an interesting political difference.

Mark Gettleson on Politics Home has argued that Labour seems to be capturing more affluent voters from the Lib Dems since the last election.

Using a similar analysis, we see that those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 who would now vote for another party, tend to favour restoration. So the Lib Dem support has become more opposed to the death penalty than it was last year.

Aside from any (minor) implications this might have for debates about the death penalty, it surprised me to see that the Lib Dems, in coalition with the Tories, seem to be retaining their social liberals more than their social conservatives.



Populus/Sun 2005

Mori 2007

Mori 2008

Mori/Channel 4 2009

YouGov 2010

YouGov/Sun 2011


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