Support for Capital Punishment

On Thursday in POLI 1100, a general discussion about the distinctions between democratic and non-democratic regimes focused on the use(s) of violence by governments as a means of control. This led to a discussion of the use of, and support for, the death penalty. As many of my students knew, the death penalty is not used in Canada or Europe (with the exception of Belarus) but is used in the United States. Most of the class, however, was surprised to learn that, despite the differences in policy, until quite recently a majority of both Canadians and Americans supported the death penalty. The graphic below shows the supports of a Gallup-Ipsos survey carried out in 2004, in which Canadians just barely oppose the death penalty (although, as you can see, it is not a majority), while Great Britons (55%) and US Americans (64%) both have majorities supporting the death penalty.

Although support for capital punishment is decreasing in many countries, in many European countries a majority of the population still is in favour of the death penalty for those convicted of murder. What about Japan? In a poll released in February 2010, a record 85% of Japanese supported the death penalty!

What do you think about these results? Are they as you expected? What does this say about the political culture of the countries in question?

2 thoughts on “Support for Capital Punishment”

  1. I think that support for capital punishment stems more from primal impulses toward vengeance than anything else. People, understandably, are very upset by certain kinds of crimes and want to see the perpetrators punished in a manner proportionate to their crime. That said, I absolutely believe that rationality and practicality need to take precedence over what may arguably be natural impulses, especially given the many social and economic factors that make capital punishment a Terrible Idea. Imperfect law enforcement and justice systems and plain ol’ human error can and have put innocent people on death row. Institutional racism and classism mean certain populations are over-represented in the prison population. Ideology of politicians and lawmakers can and do drive severity of punishments, making a crime committed in one place be worth death and in another worth community service. The criminal’s fate is then a matter of geography. Troubling, too, are the staggering financial costs of supporting an inmate on death row and their eventual execution, versus that of another sentence.

    In light of those and other factors, letting a lust for revenge decide a criminal’s fate is, well, dumb.

    1. “In light of those and other factors, letting a lust for revenge decide a criminal’s fate is, well, dumb.”

      Thanks for your comprehensive response. Did you know that a US presidential election was arguably decided on the question of the death penalty? Let’s go all the way back to 1988:

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