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    October 16

  • 07:10 AM

To hang or not to hang

Peter Wickham,

Added 12 September 2010


The tragic deaths of six Barbadians last Friday has ignited the death penalty debate in Barbados yet again and while it is assumed that the vast majority of Barbadians support this punishment, there has been infrequent and sporadic scientific inquiry into this issue. The NATION has therefore taken a decision to inform public opinion on this and other matters of current interest by way of a commissioned CADRES survey. The results that speak to the current level of support will be presented to the public in next week’s SUNDAY SUN however in anticipation of this information CADRES has reviewed the historical data that is available to us as we attempt to contextualise the discussion. Two surveys There are two surveys relevant to this discussion and both were national surveys that were executed with a scientific similar rigour that is consistent with the CADRES standard. The first of these survey was a NATION/CADRES survey conducted between January 8 - 11, 1999 (in anticipation of the January 1999 election), while the second was a UWI/CADRES poll conducted in April of 2004 by students of the University of the West Indies. Although the sponsoring agencies were different, the comparison of these two surveys is appropriate since both are national surveys that fall within the +/- 5% margin of error. The appended chart presents the key finding of the two surveys and it can be seen that in 1999 82 per cent of Barbadians supported the death penalty, while in 2004 this level of support dropped to 65 per cent. The change in support over this five-year period is reflected in the shift from “positive support” to “uncertainty” since the quantity of people who changed their support to opposition in 2004 was only four per cent while about 13 per cent shifted from “positive support” to “uncertain”. In this regard it is noteworthy that the survey had a margin of error of +/- 5% and as such the shift in quantity of people who “don’t support” the death penalty is negligible, while the increase in the numbers of uncertain people is significant. The categorisation of this segment of the population that shifted their support between 1999 and 2004 is associated with one possible explanation of the reason for this apparent drop in support for the death penalty during that five year period. Although not applicable to the presentation of data that was collected, the reasons why the level of support for the death penalty appears to have fallen in-between surveys would be of interest to readers of this report and the one to follow next week. The reason appears to lie in an exploration of relevant police crime statistics which demonstrate that January 1999 was a period when Barbadians reflected on a year when crime appears to have grown exponentially and moreover was highlighted as a critical issue in the election campaign which was at the time on-going. Crime issue NATION/CADRES polls at that time identified crime as the single most important issue to Barbadians and this concern is supported by relevant police data. These data reflect a murder rate that almost doubled between 1997 and 1998 (from 11 to 20) and a similar increase in the quantity of robberies which moved from 295 in 1998 to 415 in 1999. It therefore appears as though this crime wave impacted positively on the level of support for the death penalty and as such this support level appears to be remarkably high. It is clear, however, that this surplus support is perhaps not genuine but represents people who are otherwise uncertain about this punishment, but migrate to the supportive category in reaction to a crime wave which they believe that the death penalty could address. Although crime rates have not fallen significant in the five year period, it would seem that by 2005 Barbadians grew accustomed to higher levels of crime and their reaction to the death penalty was more moderate which implies that the more natural support level is likely to be in the vicinity of 65% which is the 2004 level. Both the 1999 and 2004 surveys included several demographic variables which can be used to test the extent to which our demographic profile impacts positively or negatively on our support for or opposition to the death penalty. In both instances the relevant statistical tests were conducted and the 1999 data-set revealed strong correlations between support for the death penalty and gender as well as age. In this instance therefore, men were more supportive of the death penalty than women and women were in-turn more likely to be uncertain about their support. Regarding age, in 1999 younger people were less supportive of the death penalty than older people were. The 2004 data set was considerably more extensive and included several other demographic categories which generate an interesting analysis. The 2004 data is consistent with that of 1999 as it relates to gender and age since the men and older people were more supportive of this type of punishment. There were, however considerably weaker correlations that could be identified in relation to other categories such as race, education and income level. Specifically, Afro Barbadians were the most supportive of the death penalty while Anglo and Indo Barbadians were less supportive. The impact of education is less clear since the highest support levels were among people who claimed to have had a primary education only, while support in the other educational categories fluctuated but seemed lowest among those with a (maximum) post-secondary education; however this did not drop among those who attended tertiary institutions. Arguably therefore greater exposure to education does not necessarily make a person less likely to support the death penalty, but very little education appears to pre-dispose the individual to being more supportive. More refined Next week’s NATION/CADRES poll presents the issue is a slightly more refined manner since it gives the respondent the opportunity to state whether their support is absolute or conditional and also asks the respondent to comment on the entity they believe should condemn a person to death. The composite data should therefore help to inform public discussion on this issue. Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) is a regional research organisation based in Barbados.


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