Public Opinion in Barbados

As noted already, there is little research on public opinion on the death penalty in Barbados. In the words of Peter Wickham: ‘while it is assumed that the vast majority of Barbadians support this punishment, there has been infrequent and sporadic scientific inquiry into this issue’ (Peter Wickham, ‘To hang or not to hang’, Nation News, 12 September 2010).

There have been some CADRES surveys on the issue. These have been conducted in 1999, 2004 and 2010. The results of these surveys are outlined below:

Year Support the Death Penalty Don’t Support the Death Penalty Don’t Know
1999 82% 12% 6%
2004 65% 16% 19%
2010 79%* 17% 4%

*It should be noted that the figure of 79% can be broken down into 50% of respondents support the use of the death penalty in some instances and 29% support the death penalty in all cases of murder.

The 1999 survey was conducted in advance of the general election, and the second was conducted by students of the University of the West Indies. Peter Wickham (2010) notes the considerable drop from positive support to uncertainty between 1999 and 2004. Wickham attributes some of this fluctuation to the increased salience of crime as a political issue before an election, as well as the rise in crime rates in late-1990s.

Wickham writes:

‘this surplus support [in 1999] 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.’

Wickham argues that the fall in support in 2004 could be related to people becoming accustomed to living in a higher crime society which resulted in greater tolerance for such a situation.

The 1999 poll found strong relationships between opinions on the death penalty and age and gender. Men were more likely to support the death penalty and women were more likely to be uncertain. Younger people were less likely to support the death penalty than older people.

In 2004 the same correlations were found regarding age and gender. There were also weaker correlations regarding race and education. Afro-Barbadians were more likely to be supportive of the death penalty while Anglo- and Indo-Barbadians were less likely to express support. Regarding education, the highest levels of support were among those who said they had primary education only, although there was no continuing relationship for those with higher levels of educational attainment.

The 2010 poll was carried out following a very high-profile crime which resulted in the deaths of six women. It is likely therefore that the 2010 poll reflects a peak of outrage which resulted in higher levels of support for the death penalty than would otherwise be seen (Rhonda Thompson, ‘Hang them!Nation News, 10 October 2010).

Taking this into consideration, it would seem that public opinion for the death penalty in Barbados seems to be declining. However, as already stated, further research is needed to examine this in more detail.