The death penalty is normally cited as the classic example of disconnect between politicians and the people they represent, one where a majority of MPs consistently oppose the death penalty and a majority of the public consistently support it. This is pretty much true (whether it is a good or bad thing is an entirely different matter!)

Support for the death penalty has fallen over the decades – it used to be over 70%, these days roughly half of the population support the death penalty for “standard” murder – indeed there was a YouGov poll in 2006 that showed marginally less than half of people in support of it, the first time it had occured. More recently, a YouGov poll in September 2010 found 51% supported the death penalty for murder, 37% opposed. A MORI poll in July 2010 found 51% supported the death penalty for adult murder. An Angus Reid poll in 2008 found people supported the death penalty for murder by 50% to 40%.

Support for the death penalty is higher for specific crimes, such as murder of a police officer, murder of a child or multiple murders. The MORI poll in July 2010 asked people which of a list of crimes they thought should have the death penalty – 62% supported it for child murder (and 70% supported in at least some circumstances). A YouGov poll in November 2010 found 74% of people supported the death penalty for murder in some circumstances, though only 16% supported it for all murders.

If we go all the way back to 2003, a YouGov poll asked people if they supported the death penalty in various circumstances of murder. 57% supported it for murder , 62% for murder of a police officer, 67% for the murder of a child, 69% for a serial killer (note that the figures may be slightly higher than more recent polling because of the timing of the poll, conducted just after the Soham murder trial – 63% would have hanged Huntley).

So, generally speaking about half of people support the death penalty for murder, with slightly more than that typically supporting it for particularly circumstances of murder, such as that of children or police officers. Support for the death penalty tends to be strongest amongst Conservative voters, but Labour supporters also tend to be more likely than not to support it (Liberal Democrats tend to oppose). There is a strong class divide – middle class respondents are much less likely to support the death penalty than working class respondents.

Looking at the other end of the comparison, what about MPs? Historically the House of Commons voted on the death penalty rather a lot, up until the 1990s there was usually one vote per Parliament on whether the death penalty should be restored. Over time, these were defeated by solid majorities.

In 1994 the last attempt to reintroduce the death penalty was rejected by 403 to 159. The death penalty for the murder of a police officer was rejected by 383 to 186. Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs voted solidly against, while Conservative MPs were split (a typical pattern on death penalty votes) – 122 voted against, 148 in favour. If there is a similar pattern amongst current MPs (Labour and Lib Dem MPs solidly against, Conservative MPs split pretty evenly) then a large majority of MPs will oppose the death penalty.

UPDATE: Tonight’s YouGov/Sunday Times poll has voting intention of CON 35%, LAB 44%, LDEM 10%, so still very much in line with the Labour lead of 8 points or so YouGov have been showing.

Tonight’s daily YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 36%, LAB 42%, LDEM 11% – a six point Labour lead, but still very much within the normal margin of error of the Labour lead of eight points or so YouGov have been showing lately.


Time to dish out another of the much sought after UKPollingReport “Crap media reporting of polls” awards. The Daily Record is proudly reporting that “Support for Lib Dems in Scotland down to just 3%, according to new poll”. I thought for a moment I has missed a new Scottish poll (hardly unlikely), or that Scottish commenters on UKPR had missed a new Scottish poll (much less likely). Alas not – the Daily Record has, in fact, precariously balanced the headline upon the Scottish cross-break in a single Angus Reid survey, consisting of 161 respondents.

The Daily Record’s article does at least mention this later in the article, and puts it in the context of Scottish cross breaks from other polls that, er, don’t show the Liberal Democrats at 3%, rather suggesting that they’ve cherry-picked a single outlying figure from extremely volatile cross-breaks to make a good headline. Cue lots of politicans cherry picking their own favoured cross-breaks to show how wonderfully they are doing. It’s down to whichever beleaguered toiler was on the Lib Dem press office that day to give the only sensible comment in the piece “It would be ridiculous to draw any meaningful conclusions from this poll given the minuscule Scottish sample size” (and that, one cynically observes, is probably only because no cross breaks look pretty for the Lib Dems).

I can only repeat the same thing I’ve repeated a million times – for fine tuned questions like voting intention, where are couple of percentage points make all the difference, individual regional cross-breaks are pretty much worthless. Sample sizes are typically very low, meaning large margins of error (in the case of this poll, about plus or minus 8 points) and numbers will jump about wildly from one poll to the next.

Equally, polls are normally weighted to be representative overall, rather than within individual crossbreaks – a poll that is representative of GB overall may have, for example, too many Tories in one region and not enough in another. Hence while aggregating lots of crossbreaks together will get you over the hurdle of small sample sizes (and is certainly better than looking at the crossbreaks in individual polls), it won’t magically transform aggregated crossbreaks from a GB poll into a properly sampled and weighted Scottish poll.

(*Well, strictly speaking they could be, since the whole point is that we don’t have any recent proper Scottish polling to judge it upon)

There are two new polls out tonight. Firstly YouGov’s daily poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 37%, LAB 41%, LDEM 10%. This is something of a narrowing of the Labour lead, in the last week leads of 8 points or so were becoming pretty standard, but I’ll add my usual caveat about being cautious about any single poll that shows something useful: sure, it could be Labour’s lead falling in what will be the first poll taken since the hacking saga has (temporarily) fallen off the news agenda, but just as likely it’s an outlier and we’ll be back to bigger Labour leads tomorrow.

Tomorrow we’re due the GDP figures, so perhaps it’s also worth a look at the regular YouGov trackers on cuts in today’s tables. The broad picture remains as we’ve seen for much of this year – a majority of people (53%) think the cuts are being carried out too quickly (27% about right and 8% too slowly), 46% think they are too deep (27% about right and 10% too shallow), 48% think they are bad for the economy (36% think they are good). However, despite all this 57% of people think they are necessary, and people are still more likely to blame the last Labour government than the coalition.

Secondly we have the monthly ComRes telephone poll for the Indy. Topline figures with changes since the last ComRes phone poll are CON 34%(-2), LAB 40%(nc), LDEM 13%(+2), Others 13%(-2), so once again the Conservatives taking a small knock from the phone hacking saga.

The other questions are on the phone hacking saga. 65% agreed with a statement that the phone hacking scandal showed News Corp were not a fit and proper organisation to own part of BSkyB. There were also some questions asking if people viewed the party leaders more positively or negatively as a result of the phone hacking saga – these suggest that people view all three more negatively, but I’d suggest that tells us more about the deep uselessness of asking questions in this format! Proper tracker questions asked before and after the phone hacking saga reached its peak, asked by YouGov, MORI and ComRes, all show pretty conclusively that perceptions of Ed Miliband have increased substantially, even if respondents themselves don’t realise it!

UPDATE: There is also a new Angus Reid poll, their first since April (I thought they had faded away!). Topline figures with changes from April are CON 34%(+3), LAB 41%(-1), LDEM 10%(-1). The poll was conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday last week.

The full tables for the YouGov Sunday Times poll are now up here.

On the regular trackers Ed Miliband’s ratings continue to rise – his net approval rating is now up to minus 15 (from minus 21 a week ago, and minus 34 before the phone-hacking scandal went nuclear). This puts his approval rating slightly above Cameron’s, who is on minus 16 (from minus 12 a week ago) – the first time YouGov have shown Miliband with a higher approval rating than Cameron since last September. Note, however, that it means people think he’s doing a better job at the moment, not that they think he’d make a better PM – YouGov asked best PM for the Sun earlier this week and Cameron still had a 9 point lead over Miliband.

On the specific question of how well they have handled the phone hacking saga, Cameron’s ratings have fallen further since last week. Only 24% now think he has handled it well, with 60% thinking he has handled it badly. Miliband is still seen as having handled it well, though slightly less well than a week ago.

There appears to be little confidence in the Murdochs. Only 19% think they’ve done enough to apologise, only 10% think they’ve been honest in how they answered questions and only 19% think they are taking the right steps to tackle the problem.

Asked if Cameron, Blair and Brown were too close to Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks and editors in general, 52% think Cameron was too close to Murdoch, 58% too close to Brooks, 47% too close to newspaper editors overall. These figures (or at least, those for Murdoch and editors) are not dissimilar for Tony Blair – 50% think he was too close to Murdoch, 46% too close to Brooks and 48% too close to editors in general. Fewer people see Gordon Brown as having been close to NewsCorp – 39% think he was too close to Murdoch & Brooks, 36% to editors in general.

On the question of whether people think media organisations have too much power or not, 66% though News Corp has too much power, followed by BSkyB on 51%. This was followed by the BBC, which 38% of people think has too much power, followed the Daily Mail & General Trust (32%). Public opinion on whether newspaper organisations have too much power falls pretty much in line with their respective readerships – the bigger the circulation of their national titles, the more people think they have too much power.

Turning to the question of what is acceptable conduct for journalists, paying police officers for information is seen as the least acceptable activity by some distance, with 84% of people considering it unacceptable in all circumstances. Paying for stolen information is seen as always unacceptable by 65%, but 31% think it would be acceptable in some circumstances (mostly only to uncover criminal activity), 59% think phone-hacking is always unacceptable, 56% think blagging is always unacceptable.

At the other end of the scale, covert recording of conversations or phone calls is seen as unacceptable by 50%, but acceptable in some circumstances by 47%. Undercover investigations by journalists using false identities are seen as acceptable in some circumstances by 65% of people, with only 30% thinking this unacceptable.

While most people think these sort of actions are unacceptable in theory, when YouGov gave them the specific example of the MPs expenses scandal it got a different response. 46% of people thought it was acceptable for a newspaper to pay for stolen information to expose the MPs expenses scandal, despite 65% of people saying that in principle it is always would always be unacceptable for a paper to pay for stolen info.