catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Has support for the death penalty collapsed?

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Last week I speculated that the Van Nguyen case would accelerate decline in support for the death penalty. A Morgan Poll out today suggests that this is indeed the case, with support for it at 27%, compared to the 51% recorded by the Australian Election Survey only last year.

Unfortunately, a fall this large isn’t credible. The difference between the two polls is probably due to question wording. The AES asked people to agree or disagree with this statement:

The death penalty should be re-introduced for murder.

Morgan asked:

In your opinion, should the penalty for murder be death or imprisonment?

Morgan’s poll doesn’t allow for nuance in murder cases. How pre-meditated the murder was, the extent of provocation, the sadism of the method, and the offender’s prospects of rehabilitation are likely to influence judgment, public and judicial, on the appropriate penalty. This view is apparent in another Morgan question, in which the poll respondents were almost evenly divided between the penalty being life in jail or a term set by the judge, if imprisonment was the only option.

If the alternative is death or imprisonment, rather than one or the other as appropriate to the case, only hard-core supporters of the death penalty will back it. And indeed Morgan’s 27% is similar to the 24% in the AES who agree strongly with the death penalty being re-introduced. I still think Van Nguyen’s case, or perhaps more powerfully Van Nguyen’s mother, may affect some people’s thinking on this issue. But Morgan’s poll only confirms that there is a significant minority who believe that the death penalty should be available, but not mandatory.

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Written by Admin

December 1, 2005 at 1:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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