Director of the Philadelphia Regional Office

The need for better methods for opinion polls

Indonesian opinion polls, though infrequent, indicate around 75% support for the death penalty. A poll by Indo Barometer in 2015 found 84% supported the death penalty for drug dealers.

Superficial surveys may give us an idea of shifting opinions over time. However, they cannot measure strength of opinion, knowledge about the topic, or how the public might feel about whether particular types of offences or offenders should be subject to capital punishment.

Such polls also cannot elicit nuanced responses to particular features of cases involving, for example, strong aggravating or mitigating features.

Comparative analysis of public opinion research from eight countries demonstrates that reliable data on public opinion can only be produced by rigorous, methodologically sophisticated surveys. This includes surveys of the kind commissioned by The Death Penalty Project in Malaysia, Trinidad and Zimbabwe.

Rigorous and independent empirical research that teases out the nuances of public support is necessary if retention is to be justified by reference to democratic will.