Cabinet Office poll: 80% of respondents think death penalty ‘permissible’

JIJI, Kyodo

According to a Cabinet Office opinion poll conducted over the weekend, 80.3 percent of the public believes the death penalty is “permissible” and 9.7 percent think it should be abolished.

The high rate apparently reflected respondents’ views that the feelings of crime victims and their relatives should be taken into account, and that serious offenders should receive the ultimate sanction, the poll, conducted every five years, said.

By comparison, the approval ratio was 85.6 percent in 2009 and 81.4 percent in 2004.

In the latest poll, carried out in November, respondents for the first time were asked whether they would support the abolition of capital punishment if Japan introduced a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. Those who said they would came to 51.5 percent and those said they would not came to 37.7 percent.

The Cabinet Office also changed the wording of certain questions after the Japan Federation of Bar Associations criticized the previous poll for using leading questions to steer pollees toward retaining the death penalty.

Respondents were thus asked whether they thought the death penalty was “permissible.” In the previous polls, participants were instead asked whether they thought capital punishment was only “permissible in some cases.”

When asked to cite their reasons, and with multiple answers allowed, 53.4 percent of death penalty proponents said the victims’ anger could never ease if the system was abolished and offenders were permitted to live. Another 52.9 percent replied that perpetrators of heinous crimes should pay with their lives.

Among those opposed to the death penalty, 46.6 percent cited potential miscarriages of justice, possibly due to a high-profile judiciary decision last year to suspend the death sentence of former boxer Iwao Hakamada, who had spent nearly half a century on death row for alleged murder, and reopen his case.

Another 41.6 percent said perpetrators should be kept alive to pay for their crimes, while 38.8 percent said executing people is unforgivable, even at the hands of the state.

The poll, the 10th of its kind since 1956, was conducted on 3,000 adults under an interview format from Nov. 13 to 23. Of them, 60.9 percent provided valid responses. No margin of error was given.