BSA 32: Support for death penalty

Support for the death penalty falls below 50% for first time

Findings from NatCen’s British Social Attitudes today reveal that fewer than half of people in Britain back the death penalty – the first time support has dropped below 50% since NatCen began asking the public its view on capital punishment in 1986.

NatCen’s annual survey of the public’s view on political and social issues shows only 48% of people now back the death penalty for “some crimes”, down from 54% in 2013.

Support for the death penalty stood at 74% in 1986, and then fell during the 1990s to 59% by 1998. The previous low of 52% was recorded in 2001.

Proportion agreeing "For some crimes, the death penalty is the most appropriate sentence".

death penalty figure

Young people are consistently less likely to agree with the death penalty as older people. However, the difference is not that marked: 43% of 18-24s compared with 52% of those aged 65+ agree with the death penalty for some crimes. We also find big political differences on the issue, with UKIP voters far more likely to support the death penalty than the public as a whole (75% compared with 48%).

Rachel Ormston, Co-Head of Social Attitudes at NatCen Social Research said: “The big change in public attitudes to the death penalty came in the 1990s at a time when attitudes to a range of other issues, like same-sex relationships and sex before marriage were also liberalising. This more recent change is interesting because attitudes have stayed fairly steady for a number of years. It could be the continuation of this liberalising trend or, perhaps, a response to the shocking botched executions in the United States that were widely reported in April and July of last year.”



NatCen Social Research,
Britain’s largest independent social research organisation, aims to promote a better-informed society through high quality social research (

British Social Attitudes: the 32nd Report was published on 26 March 2015 and is freely available at:

Sample and approach – The 2014 survey consisted of 2,878 interviews with a representative, random sample of adults in Britain. Interviewing was mainly carried out between August and October 2014, with a small number of interviews taking place in November 2014. 2,376 people were asked about their views on the death penalty.

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