NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

European Views Of The Death Penalty

August 8, 2000

European countries have abolished capital punishment. But that's not because European voters are against it. Indeed, poll after poll shows that ordinary European citizens favor it almost as much as American voters.

  • In Britain, opinion polls have shown that between two-thirds and three-quarters of the population favors the death penalty -- about the same as in the U.S.
  • In Italy -- which has led the international fight against capital punishment for much of the last decade -- roughly one-half the population wants it reinstated.
  • In France, clear majorities continued to back the death penalty long after it was abolished in 1981 -- and only last year did a poll finally show that less than 50 percent wanted it reinstated.
  • Europe aside, even 60 to 70 percent of Canadians want to bring back the death penalty -- which was formally abolished in the mid-1970s.

So why aren't politicians responding to public opinion? In countries like Britain and France, elite opinion is largely united on the immorality of capital punishment -- and due to their parliamentary form of government, public support cannot easily translate into legislative action.

In parliamentary systems, people tend to vote for parties rather than individuals. And party committees choose which candidates stand for election. Thus candidates who support contrary views on capital punishment are less likely to be chosen to stand for election.

Source: Joshua Micah Marshall (American Prospect), "Death in Venice," New Republic, July 31, 2000.


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