The death penalty is a considerably more divisive issue in Britain today than in other major countries in Western Europe or North America, a new Associated Press International Affairs poll conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs has revealed.
The poll, conducted in the UK in February 2007, finds that half the British public (50%) say they favour the death penalty for people convicted of murder, while 45% are opposed. This suggests a weakening of British support for capital punishment in recent years, since polls in the past have tended to find a clear majority in favour of restoring the death penalty.
Support for the death penalty for murder is nevertheless higher in Britain than in other western European countries: 45% favour it in France, 35% in Germany, 31% in Italy and 28% in Spain; opponents also outnumber supporters in Canada, where 44% are in favour. But there are clear majorities of at least two-to-one in favour in the USA (69% in favour compared to 29% opposed) and South Korea (72% to 28%) -- both of which retain the death penalty -- as well as in Mйxico (71% to 26%), which does not.
But while some of these other countries have substantial numbers who dissent from the majority, nowhere else are there as many who say they feel strongly on both sides. On Britain, three in ten (29%) say they are strongly in favour, and an equal number (29%) are strongly opposed to the death penalty for murder; with the exception of Canada (where 23% strongly favour a return to the death penalty), no other country in the poll had significantly more than half as many as Britain saying they strongly take the side of the minority.
Attitudes to the death penalty may be partly dependent on what people believe the alternative to be. When British respondents were asked to choose between the death penalty, life imprisonment without the chance of parole and life imprisonment with the chance of parole as the possible sentences for murder, those who said they would prefer the death penalty fell to 33%; but only 19% said they preferred life with the possibility of parole, the mandatory sentence for murder in Britain since 1965. Almost half, 44%, would prefer the sentence to be life without parole -- including more than half of those who oppose the death penalty. This mirrors findings in the other countries in the survey: life without parole was the most popular option in every country except the USA and Mйxico (where more preferred the death penalty), and nowhere was support for a life sentence with the possibility of parole higher than 27%, the figure in Germany.
British opinion is also divided on what the practical result of restoring the death penalty would be: 47% think the number of murders in Britain would go down, but another 47% think it would stay about the same, and 4% that it would go up.
Results shown are percentages unless otherwise labeled
|160||Interviews||Margin of Error||Interview Dates|
|U.S.||1,000||+3.1||February 12-15, 2007|
|Canada||1,000||+3.1||April 3-5, 2007|
|Mйxico||1,200||+3.1||February 23-25, 2007|
|South Korea||1,000||+3.1||February 13-15, 2007|
|France||1,001||+3.1||February 16-17, 2007|
|Germany||1,001||+3.1||February 9-16, 2007|
|Italy||943||+3.2||February 9-15, 2007|
|Spain||1,001||+3.1||February 9-16, 2007|
|U.K.||1,000||+3.1||February 9-18, 2007|
Q1a Do you favour or oppose the death penalty for people convicted of murder? Is that strongly favour / oppose or somewhat favour / oppose?
Base: Asked of random half sample of respondents
|Total Strongly / Somewhat Favour||69||44||71||72|
|Total Strongly / Somewhat Oppose||29||52||26||28|
|Total Strongly / Somewhat Favour||45||35||31||28||50|
|Total Strongly / Somewhat Oppose||52||62||64||69||45|
Q1b Which punishment do you prefer for people convicted of murder?
Base: Asked of random half sample of respondents, order of response items in Q1b was randomised
|The death penalty||52||25||46||35|
|Life in prison without the chance of parole||37||51||43||44|
|A long prison sentence with the chance of parole||9||20||7||21|
|The death penalty||21||11||16||12||34|
|Life in prison without the chance of parole||55||59||60||64||44|
|A long prison sentence with the chance of parole||22||27||15||20||19|
Q2a. If the death penalty were implemented in [country], do you think the number of murders would go up, go down, or stay about the same?
Asked in countries without death penalty
|Would go up||3||7||4|
|Would go down||34||60||47|
|Would stay about the same||61||25||47|
|Would go up||2||3||4||5|
|Would go down||37||22||36||38|
|Would stay about the same||59||73||51||51|
2b If the death penalty were abolished in [country], do you think the number of murders would go up, go down, or stay about the same?
Asked in countries with death penalty
|Would go up||34||51|
|Would go down||6||10|
|Would stay about the same||59||39|
Q3 If Osama bin Laden is captured, tried and convicted of being a terrorist, which punishment should he receive?
|The death penalty||62||42||54||44|
|Life in prison without the chance of parole||33||45||31||43|
|A long prison sentence with the chance of parole||3||8||4||12|
|The death penalty||38||26||25||23||40|
|Life in prison without the chance of parole||53||60||61||65||48|
|A long prison sentence with the chance of parole||5||10||6||7||6|
Q4 Regardless of your views on the death penalty, which one of these methods do you think should be used for executions in the US?
Asked in countries with death penalty
- International Attitudes Towards The Death Penalty: pdf, 64KB How does support for the death penalty differ across the world, and what should be done with convicted murderers? [International Social Trends Unit (ISTU) presentation]