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Death penalty poll – is this for real?

The Sun media group is all over a poll released today by Abacus Data that 2/3 of we meek and mild Canucks are in favour of killing people to show that killing people is wrong. It is is also noted, however, that less than half (41%) want it formally reinstated.

Putting aside the clear statement of ambivalence expressed by the respondents to the poll – 66% of Canadians support the death penalty “in certain circumstances,” but only 41% want it brought back it back a punishment for murder – I have a few other issues with these numbers.

First, it was a poll of randomly selected adults from an online panel of over 400,000. Web-based polls have an inherent bias that should be acknowledge in any analyses of the results.

I looked at a similar question that was asked by EKOS in March 2010 (sample size of 2,302, phone survey), and the results were more closely aligned with those 40-odd percent who indicated in the Abacus poll that they would want it brought back in legislation.

Forty-six per cent do not support the reintroduction of capital punishment while 40 per cent do. Another 14 per cent said they had no opinion.

Data from 2000 suggests that opinions on this issue have remained relatively unchanged in 10 years. In June of 2000, 43 per cent disagreed with capital punishment while 44 per cent agreed with it.

Those who support the reintroduction of capital punishment tend to be Conservative supporters (53 per cent), residents of Alberta (48 per cent), men (43 per cent), seniors (45 per cent), high school grads (48 per cent) and college grads (46 per cent).

Which begs another question…

Second, where is the regional breakdown in the Abacus poll? There isn’t one. And why is that? Because the sample size is not large enough. A sample of 1,100 will yield you good results at the national level but won’t get you anything provincially. And THAT is where the interesting results would be seen.

For example, will anyone dispute that the likelihood of someone in Alberta supporting the death penalty is greater than someone in, say, Ontario. No, of course not. And where is the CPC base?

Now, I’m not throwing the Abacus polling results out the window. All I am saying is that with polls such as these, one should be very careful about drawing conclusions. The CPC would love everyone to believe that indeed most Canadians are behind Harper after he muses on being “personally” in favour of the death penalty. While in fact, these numbers may be more a case of strong regional bias coupled with the bias inherent in a web-based panel.

Just sayin’…

Of course, a Harperite who reads this will accuse me of liberal bias or some such nonsense… go ahead… throw it at me…

And in case you haven’t noticed, I am. for the record, not in favour of the death penalty.


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  1. John says:

    The act of killing is not inherently good or bad. All living things kill to eat. A family member takes a doomed child off life support, a person shoots an intruder about to kill his family. MURDER on the other hand is an abomination. Capital punishment is not murder, it is a positive use of killing. Allowing a victimizer to have better fortune than the victim is an abomination.

  2. To me, the basic idea that some criminals are sufficiently awful that they should be permanently removed from the planet for their crimes is not objectionable to me. Paul Bernardo, Karla Homolka, Clifford Olsen, Charles Ng, Charles Manson, and so on all rightfully earned a bullet in the ear, and it’s hard to make a reasoned argument that is not the case unless you believe that killing is universally wrong (which I don’t).

    But those are extreme cases and not representative of the majority of death penalty cases. History has shown pretty clearly that the justice system cannot mete out capital punishment in a demonstrably fair way.

    So for that reason alone, I am forced to oppose the death penalty… not because I think the death penalty is a bad idea but because I have no confidence in our ability to use it properly.

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