Latest poll highlights wide gender divide on Assange, as most Britons say Ecuador wrong, explains Peter Kellner, as row continues
Most Britons, and women in particular, think Ecuador is wrong to shelter Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks wanted in Sweden on charges of rape and sexual assault.
The figures in YouGov’s survey for the Sunday Times are emphatic: by 60-23%, voters oppose Ecuador’s decision to let him stay in their London embassy, while by 55-25% they oppose the decision to give him asylum.
One reason for these majorities is that, by two-to-one, Britons think he would receive a fair trial in Sweden if his extradition went ahead.
Mr Assange does, however, have some support for his contention that he cannot expect justice were he to end up in the United States. By 51-29%, we think he would NOT receive a fair trial there were he charged with disclosing secret documents through Wikileaks. Whether his further extradition to the US would actually happen is hypothetical for the moment: the US has so far made no such extradition request.
Meanwhile, most people think Britain’s police should be cautious in how they respond the present situation. Just 33% think they should use the little-known law, that resurfaced last week, that gives the police the legal right to enter the embassy to arrest Mr Assange. 54% think Britain should ‘respect the traditional convention and NOT enter the embassy’.
A different scenario is that the police would seek to seize him outside the embassy were he to seek to go to an airport to fly to Ecuador to take advantage of the country’s offer of asylum. Britons are divided: 43% think the police would be right to detain him, while 38% think this would be ‘an improper violation of diplomatic convention’.
Behind these overall figures, two things stand out. The first is that there is a much larger than normal gender gap. Men are far more sympathetic than women to Mr Assange. This may reflect the fact that Mr Assange stands accused of rape and sexual assault.
For example, 31% of men support Ecuador’s offer of asylum; among women the proportion falls to just 16%. And whereas men divide 66-26% against the police entering Ecuador’s embassy to seize Mr Assange, women are evenly divided, with 40% backing the idea and 42% opposing it.
Secondly, this is one of the rare occasions when the views of Liberal Demcorats voters do NOT sit between those of Labour and Conservative voters.
On every question in this survey, Lib Dem voters tend to display more support than Labour and Tory supporters towards Mr Assange and Ecuador’s government, and more opposition to the idea of the police seizing him, either inside the embassy or on the way to an airport.
These findings provide a rare glimpse of the fact that the diminished band of Lib Dem supporters really do contain a proportion of people – perhaps 4-5% of the whole electorate – who seek to defend a particular view of liberalism come what may.