50 years on, Capital punishment still favoured

August 13, 2014, 9:00 AM GMT+0

50 years after the last execution in Britain, people still tend to support the reintroduction of the death penalty, by 45-39%

50 years ago today two unremarkable murderers became the last people to be executed in Britain, on 13th August 1964. Few expected their sentences to be the last of their kind, but that year the death penalty for murder was suspended for a trial period and in 1969 it was abolished completely.

The Commons vote which ended capital punishment was a milestone for British justice, yet YouGov research finds it to be one of those issues where the views of the British public go against the political consensus.

By 45-39% people tend to support the reintroduction of the death penalty for murder.

Support has been dropping steadily - in 2010, 51% were in favour and 37% opposed, and people born after 1964, in the 18-39 age bracket, tend to oppose its reintroduction. This may suggest that we are approaching a moment when people will tend to oppose it, but we are not there yet.

Interestingly, in the US where the death penalty is still legal in some states, YouGov research has found that confidence in its effectiveness as a deterrent is lower (35% compared to 45% in Britain).

The method of Britain’s last state executions – hanging – is also disapproved of by 68-23% amongst all British people, and even by 49-45% amongst those who favour reintroducing capital punishment. Lethal injection is seen as the most appropriate method, approved of by 51% of the general public and 88% of those pro-reintroduction.

The world view of supporters of the death penalty

YouGov Profiles, our new technology, allows us to cross a single datapoint such as support for the death penalty with all the other opinions that our members have added. The result can give a revealing insight into the defining features of a particular group. We ran a YouGov Profile on supporters of capital punishment, to see if there were any cultural or taste affiliations they tended to share in other realms of life. The results give a surprisingly coherent picture: