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NCJ Number: 73900 Find in a Library
Title: Public Opinion Argument in the Death Penalty Debate
Journal: Canadian Journal of Criminology  Volume:22  Issue:4  Dated:(October 1980)  Pages:404-411
Author(s): C H S Jayewardene; H Jayewardene
Date Published: 1980
Page Count: 8
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: Canada
Annotation: This article concludes, in connection with current debates on reinstating the death penalty in Canada, that elected officials to not always base their policies on the views of their constituents as expressed in public opinion polls.
Abstract: The will-of-the-people argument that government policy must agree with public opinion is being cited in order to revive the question of the desirability of capital punishment in Canada. The 1979 Federal elections, in which the ruling Liberal Party was defeated by Conservatives, appear to indicate public dissatisfaction with the abolition of capital punishment, because Liberal members of Parliament had always been considered as favoring its abolition and Conservatives as favoring its retention. Citing various examples in former Canadian federal elections, this article suggests that the candidates' voting records on the death penalty did not influence their chances of reelection. A review of British parliamentary history indicates that, starting with Edmund Burke in the 18th century, British legislators interpreted their election as a mandate to govern according to their conscience. A study of public opinion in the United States on the issues of capital punishment and gun control shows that elected officials did not formulate their policies according to public opinion polls and that their independent behavior did not appear to affect their chances for reelection. Examples of discrepancies between expressions of public opinion and elected officials' policies are cited for Iceland, with respect to legislation to eliminate all dogs in deference to the wishes of a cat-loving majority, as well as for India, in connection with government policies on family planning, birth control, and sterilization. This study concludes that the evidence gathered in different countries suggests that an elected officials' disregard of public opinion on any issue plays a minimal role in their chances of being reelected. A French abstract of the English text is provided. Twenty-two references are included.
Index Term(s): Canada; Capital punishment; Citizen satisfaction; Great Britain/United Kingdom; India; Laws and Statutes; Liberalism; Political influences; Public Attitudes/Opinion; United States of America
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