We’re overdue an Ipsos-MORI voting intention poll, which Mike Smithson has suggested may be published today. In the meantime there is a new poll on the death penalty up on their website here, commissioned by Channel 4 as a tie in with a drama last week.

MORI gave people a list of crimes and asked which, if any, people thought the death penalty should be the maximum penalty for in the UK. Altogther 70% of people thought the death penalty should be available for at least one of the crimes, somewhat higher than other recent polls on capital punishment. However, only 51% thought it should be available for the murder of an adult, which is what most polls on the subject tend to ask about.

I’m sure you’re wondering what crimes people did think the death penalty should be available for if 70% supported it, but only 51% thought it should be available for murder. As you’ve probably guessed from me specificing “adult” murder, the largest proportion of people supported the death penalty for the murder of a child (62%), followed by murder, then the rape of a child (39%), terrorism (37%), paedophilia (31%), child abuse (19%), rape (18%), treason (11%) and armed robbery (8%).

Looking at the cross breaks there was an interesting class divide – 81% of respondents in social class DE supported the death penalty compared to 56% of respondents in social classes AB. Respondents under the age of 25 were also more likely to support the death penalty and much more likely to support it for sexual crimes – 37% of under 25s thought the death penalty should be available for rape, compared to only about 12% of over 45s.

66 Responses to “Ipsos MORI poll on the death penalty”

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  1. Pete B,

    Maybe we have mass voting on trivial matters and people are disappointed by governments after elections because when you dilute complex multi faceted arguments into simple questions you dilute the arguements themselves.

    Thus if you try to simplify an issue so you can ask a simple question you might run the inherently risk of getting a simplistic answer.

    I don’t want to seem elitist as I am a strong believer in everyone having a free vote but it does worry me that on some issues like voting BNP or the likes of the death penalty there seems to be more support for what you could term simplistic blanket responses from peolpe with fewer educational qualifications.

    My way of dealing with that dilema if it really is one is pretty much the system we have now , where by you elect people to make decisions on your behalf whos judgement you hopefully trust.

    That way with luck the final decision made on the publics behalf is hopefully considered and measured and not swayed to much by the current popular mood.

    The drawback as we have recently seem is that those elected and become a group appart and even self serving.

    The best I can come up with to deal with that is fixed term parliaments and open list STV so that there is competition not jsut for seats but within parties for seats so taht even where a party has two or thee seats out of six or so the weaker of their memebers gets knocked out even if it is only from someone else of their own party.

    Its not ideal but it would be an improvement on what we have now.


  2. Shopkeeper Man,

    “You’re OTT with the 1200 murders. There were 648 homicides in 2008/9. This includes manslaughter.”

    Well thats wiki for you… Still I don’t suppose the lower figure is much consolation if you are one of the 648….


  3. Two arguments against “direct democracy”:

    1) Many people don’t understand the wider consequences of their decisions. How many people realised that by requesting the death penalty they were also asking to leave the EU?

    2) “Tyranny of the majority” – if something is of marginal benefit to the majority but a great hardship to the minority, a straight vote will go against those with a real interest in the outcome.

    A good question to demonstrate both of the above is something like “Should all Muslims in Britain be tagged to prevent them from committing acts of terrorism?”

    I’m no supporter of the current system of government, but whenever I try to imagine a country run by direct votes it always ends up looking like a very scary place!

  4. Peter and Yariv,

    In my fantasy system, MPs and MSPs would still be elected, and their task would be to debate and refine the questions to be put to the public, and then to debate and refine the details after the vote.
    That would seem to answer the objections about simplistic questions.

    And Peter, if you are worried about the influence of those with fewer educational qualifications, you could always sign up to my idea of giving extra votes to certain classes off people – e.g. those in work, those with higher education qualifications etc.

    Personally, I would rather trust the wisdom of a poorly-educated but hard-working and moral man than the average politician (excluding your good self of course). Anyway, I see a new topic has been posted so onward and upward!

  5. @Paul H-J

    “Interesting that the crimes offered potential meriting execution were mainly in respect of murder or sexual offences.”

    My reading of the results is that the knees were jerking more in reaction to crimes against children than to sexual offences. Take the children out and the highest sexual offence is rape at 18%.

    I can’t understand how anyone who has actually thought about the question could say that the death penalty should be reintroduced for those who murder a child but never for those who murder an adult. Yet 11% seem to have said exactly this. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who can offer any justification for this opinion (other than “but think of the children!”).

    As for death for drug dealing, I’m sure the reason it didn’t rate highly is that whatever harm it causes only occurs indirectly. The actual act of selling drugs doesn’t cause any harm at all, it’s the consequences of the transaction which do that. Whatever your view is on culpability for those consequences, I think people find it hard to countenance the death penalty for crimes which didn’t involve DIRECT violence, and indeed intent to harm.

    If the expected but unintended suffering caused by similar actions was all punished in this way, think how many bankers, politicians, company executives (e.g. tobacco) etc. would need to be put to death…!

  6. Andy

    Thank you for that answer. Al

  7. @ Yariv – I can’t understand how anyone who has actually thought about the question could say that the death penalty should be reintroduced for those who murder a child but never for those who murder an adult. Yet 11% seem to have said exactly this. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who can offer any justification for this opinion (other than “but think of the children!”).

    I couldn’t agree more, murder is murder. But I don’t just think its the general public who disagree, it;s the judiciary too.

    Murder an adult – that’s a life term – but you have a reasonable chance of parole after 10 years, possibly less.

    Murder a child – same life term – let’s see when Ian Huntley gets out.

  8. Yariv – the chain between a drug deal on the street and serious criminal activity (gun-running, terrorism, money-laundering, slave-traficking, murder etc) has fewer links than the chain between company exec / poliitical / banking decisions.

    The obvious exceptions include decisions to go to war illegally. However, for our political leaders to face a trial would require the grey areas of desicion making to be less grey. I understand your thinking that one rule for the misdemeanour of a drug consumer should also apply to elected politicians,

    I just wish people who buy drugs for home use could appreciate just how quickly their cash was ending up in the hands of people they actually detest.

    This poll almost certainly assumes that the voters don’t have that knowledge, and just think of a spliff as harmless fun.

  9. YARIF

    Two arguments against “direct democracy”:

    The first point you make is that it is dangerous to ask people to make a decision without furnishing them with the facts. I agree but suggest this applies to elections as well. The best solution is to trust people and provide them with better information.

    ‘tyranny of the majority’ is a good phrase to undermine democracy . There is no evidence to show that the majority is worse or more tyrannical than than some elite minority.

    Some people believe we the people elect politicians to serve us. Others believe politicians, their donors and their advisors are there to rule us their subjects.

    I believe the former but suspect that the latter is closer to the current position in UK.

  10. Yariv,

    As John TT points out, there is an entire chain of criminality associated with the drugs trade – from its production – whether in the poppy fields of Afghanistan which fund Al Qaeda and the Taliban – through transportation and distribution – often managed by gangs forcing others to run risks for a pittance or unwittingly – and the pusher at the school gate funding his lifestyle – to the junkie mugging passers by to raise the price of his next fix. That is even before you get onto the pain and suffering of those left to clean up the mess.

    The misery caused to deliver just one momentary high up the nose of a clubber is so extensive that it is amazing that people cannot see the connection.

    My revulsion is driven by my deep-rooted Christian values. It may sound old-fashioned, but my logic is simple.

    Murder a man – you destroy his body
    Hook him on drugs and you destroy his soul

    On the question as to which is more evil, there is no contest .

  11. @Shopkeeper Man

    My guess is that Ian Huntley will spend longer in jail because of the media attention given to the case rather than the age of the victims (although in this instance the two causes are related). I’d like to see the average time served for cases which DON’T make the national papers.
    Also, if two murderers are given the same sentence but one is released earlier than the other, surely the blame lies with the parole board and not the judiciary?

  12. @John TT, Paul H-J

    I disagree with you about drugs, the best way to reduce the harm caused by them and particularly (as I’m not religious) with Paul H-J’s argument about destroying “souls”, but I don’t think this is really the place to go into that discussion, so we’ll have to agree to disagree there.

    My point above, however, was that despite individuals’ differing assessments of relative harm/evil, people generally have a far stronger instinctive reaction against the direct perpetrators of harm, especially violence, than against the indirect ones – even where the indirect harm is greater.
    This is especially valid in relation to the death penalty – I’m sure a lot of people’s support for it is due more to instinctive reactions than to considered analysis or even morals.

  13. Yariv,

    “blame lies with the parole board and not the judiciary”

    Why blame, if parole like a trail is based on the particulars of the case then each should be judged on its merits.

    If you don’t want two murders given the same sentence to be potentially released at different times then don’t have a parole board.

    Equally if you have a problem with different sentences for the same crime then just have a set penalties for each crime and remove discretion from Judges.

    Maybe I am over stating it but your argument seems to be Judges sometimes make different judgements on sentencing depending on the case and people don’t like that, but I thought that was how the system was supposed to work.


  14. @Davey

    I don’t disagree with you about information, but I think it’s fair to say that if EVERY national decision were made by everyone, people simply wouldn’t have enough time to consider all the information which may or may not affect the consequences of the decision. (Not that politicians always consider this information either, of course.)
    If only some decisions are given to the public, we get the problem of who decides what questions should be asked, how, and when (I think we already have this problem to some extent).

    The ‘tyranny of the majority’ doesn’t imply actual tyranny, but it IS, in a sense, an argument against referendum-style democracy. What it isn’t, of course, is an argument FOR rule by an elite minority.

    All the phrase means is that when any decision is legitimised by a simple majority, the views of anyone not in that majority become irrelevant and so can be ignored. (A similar problem to FPTP, really.)

  15. @Peter Cairns

    I didn’t mean to imply that I disagree with the parole board system – I was just responding to Shopkeeper Man’s point which referred to instances where parole is determined inconsistently (in which he blamed the judiciary).

  16. @ Yariv

    My aoplogies for commenting without research earlier.
    Having read up, Ian Huntley ticked most of the tarriff boxes to ensure he serves a whole life term (40 years) before parole:

    (from wikipedia, of course)

    Crimes where whole life tariff are recommended:

    a) murder of two or more persons, where each murder involves any of the following :
    – a substantial degree of premeditation or planning,
    – the abduction of the victim, or
    – sexual or sadistic conduct,

    b) child murder if involving the abduction of the child or sexual or sadistic motivation,

    c) murder done for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause,
    d) murder by an offender previously convicted of murder,

    e) other offence if the court considers that the seriousness of the offence (or the combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it) is exceptionally high. For example, high treason can warrant such a sentence, if it is grave enough.

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