Thursday, July 09, 2009

Death Penalty Polls - Support Remains Very High - 80%

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below
April, 2009

When polls correctly ask about true capital, death penalty eligible murders, support is around 80%.

Most familiar polls wrongly ask a variation of "Do you support the death penalty for murder?", usually getting replies in the 60-75% range.

However, in the US, the death penalty is only allowed for those who commit capital murders. Therefore, all polls, which only refer to murders are irrelevant when asking about death penalty support.

Death penalty support is much deeper and much wider than we are often led to believe.

Death penalty support for relevant capital, death penalty eligible murders

81% of the American people supported the execution of Timothy McVeigh, with only 16% opposed. "(T)his view appears to be the consensus of all major groups in society, including men, women, whites, nonwhites, "liberals" and "conservatives." (Gallup 5/2/01).

85% of Connecticut respondents voiced support for serial/rapist murderer Michael Ross' "voluntary" execution. (Quinnipiac University Poll, January 12, 2005). This is the best example of a death penalty poll I have seen, regarding how polling results change, based upon the way a question is asked.

79% support the death penalty for terrorists (Survey USA News Poll #12074, Sponsor: WABC-TV New York, 4/26/2007 New York State poll)

"78% of (Nebraska's) 3,232 respondents said they supported the death penalty for “heinous crimes.” 16% opposed. ". . . a nearly identical number (76%) said they opposed legislation that would abolish the death penalty. ("Survey Shows Statewide Support for Death Penalty", MPB Public Affairs Poll, 2/14/08)

73% of Connecticut voters support the death penalty for the two parolees accused of the Cheshire (Ct) home invasion rape/murders of a mother and her two daughters. While 63% of Connecticut voters support the death penalty for murderers, in general, AT THE SAME TIME. ("Connecticut Voters Support Death Penalty 2-1", Quinnipiac University Poll, 11/7/07). NOTE: Support is actually greater than 3 to 1. The poll showed 73% for execution, 23% opposed, for those parolees. It was 63-27% for the general question.

82% of those in the US favored of executing Saddam Hussein (French daily Le Monde, 12/2006{1}), also in
Great Britain: 69%
France: 58%
Germany: 53%
Spain: 51%
Italy: 46%

We are led to believe there isn't death penalty support in England or Europe. European governments won't allow executions when their populations support it: they're anti democratic. (2)

Why is the "error rate" so large between the general murder question and specific, death penalty eligible murders?

Likely, it is due to several factors:
(1) the reluctance of some respondents to voice stronger support for the death penalty, unless specific examples of murderers and their crimes are provided. All of the above polls reflect that.;
(2) the widespread media coverage of anti death penalty claims, without the balance of contradicting those false claims, producing lower general support (The 130 death row "innocents" scam is a perfect example); and
(3) the absence of that influence from (2) when looking at individual cases, when the public knows the crimes, the guilt of the murderer and absent the anti death penalty bias factor, thus producing much higher specific case support, also reflected in the polls, above.

Death Penalty Opposition? Look Again.

Significant percentages of those who say the oppose the death penalty, in general, do, in fact, support that sanction for truly death eligible crimes. This provides firm evidence that death penalty support is much wider and deeper than expressed with the answers to the general and improper death penalty polling questions.

57% of those who say they oppose the death penalty, generally, actually do support it for McVeigh's execution (81% supported the execution of McVeigh, 16% opposed (Gallup 5/02/01), while 65% offer general support for executions for "murder", with 28% opposed (Gallup, 6/10/01). The polls were conducted at nearly the same time.

40% who say they oppose the death penalty, generally, actually do support it for terrorists. (79% support and 18% oppose the death penalty for terrorists. 67% support and 29% oppose the death penalty for "murder".) (SAME POLL - Survey USA News Poll #12074, Sponsor: WABC-TV New York, 4/26/2007 New York State poll)

84% of those who, generally, say they oppose the death penalty, in general, actual did support it for Michael Ross. (SAME POLL - 85% say Connecticut serial rapist/murderer Michael Ross should be allowed to waive appeals and be executed. When asked whether they favor or oppose the death penalty, 59% favor - 31% oppose (Quinnipiac University Poll, January 12, 2005).

NOTE: The percentages will likely have a range of change, instead of a specific percentage, because there would be a transfer of points, not just from those opposing, under the general question, but from the undecided" or "did not answer" group, as well, into the supportive group for specific murders.

Distortion: Death Penalty vs Life Without Parole Polls

When responding to this question: “If you could choose between the following two approaches, which do you think is the better penalty for murder: the death penalty (or) life imprisonment, with absolutely no possibility of parole?”, Gallup found:

47% for the death penalty, 48% for life without parole, (Gallup, May 2006).

Some, including Gallup and Quinnipiac, speculate that this represents lower support for the death penalty. Such improper and inaccurate speculation cannot be justified and is an unethical use of pollsters' opinion.

First error: Neither respondent group is saying do away with the other sanction or that they oppose the other sanction. What it does mean is that 95% of US citizens support the death penalty and/or life without parole for murderers. It could also mean that 90% of all respondents support both sanctions, particularly when properly using capital murders.

For example, "Which do you think is better - vanilla ice cream or chocolate ice cream?" 50% prefer chocolate, 45% vanilla. However, 92% actually like both vanilla and chocolate ice cream - with a slightly lower percentage liking vanilla, marginally less. 99% of respondents don't want either ice cream banned. 1% were undecided.

Second error: This polling question is highly prejudicial, which wrongly influences the answers. This has become commonplace.

"Absolutely" no possibility of parole (release) doesn't exist.

What is absolute is that the executive branch can reduce sentences and the legislature can change the laws and make them retroactive, if it benefits the criminal, thereby offering two avenues for parole in "absolutely" no-parole cases.

Therefore, the polling question offers a false premise which, obviously, distorts the answers. Gallup has been made aware of this for some time.

Third error: By law and in the context of the death penalty, it cannot be a choice of either only a death sentence or only a life sentence, as Gallup wrongly poses. Constitutionally, the death penalty cannot be mandatory. Therefore, at least two sentencing options must always be provided to jurors in a death penalty eligible case.

Therefore, the polling question begins with 3 false premises, all of which wrongly effect the poll.

Gallup did not ask this misleading question in 2007, 2008 or 2009. I hope they did so because of theses error issues and will not resume it.

Fourth error: Inexcusably, Gallup wrongly continues to mention the previous results of this highly misleading poll.

If you are searching for a true life vs death penalty choice, the poll question should be in the context of true death penalty eligible murders, such as:

For the rape and murder of children do you prefer the punishment options of
1) Life without parole, excluding, in all cases, the death penalty? or
2) Giving the jury the option of selecting either the death penalty or life without parole?

This has the benefit of reflecting reality, as opposed to the distorted fiction of Gallup's (and others') current life sentence vs death penalty polling. The death penalty cannot be a punishment option, without also having life or other options and the death penalty is case specific to capital murders.


Death penalty support is much deeper and much wider than we are often led to believe, with significant percentages of those who say they, generally, oppose the death penalty, actually supporting it when it is a true death eligible crime.

There is 82% death penalty support in the US, as recently as December 2006. Even one of the most liberal US states, Connecticut, has shown very strong support for specific, death eligible case executions - 85% (2005), 73% (2007).

95% of US citizens support the death penalty and/or life without parole for murderers. Therefore, we already have the most democratic approach - we give jurors and judges the choice between those two sentences in capital eligible cases.

Copyright 2005-2009, Dudley Sharp, Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or part, is approved, with proper attribution.

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail, 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

Pro death penalty sites

essays (Sweden)

(1) The recent results of a poll conducted by Novatris/Harris for the French daily Le Monde on the death penalty shocked the editors and writers at Germany's left-leaning SPIEGEL ONLINE (Dec. 22, 2006). When asked whether they favored the death penalty for Saddam Hussein, a majority of respondents in Germany, France and Spain responded in the affirmative.

(2)An excellent article, “Death in Venice: Europe’s Death-penalty Elitism", details this anti democratic position (The New Republic, by Joshua Micah Marshall, 7/31/2000). Another situation reflects this same mentality. "(Pres. Mandela says 'no' to reinstating the death penalty in South Africa - Nelson Mandela against death penalty though 93% of public favors it, according to poll. "(JET, 10/14/96). Pres. Mandela explained that ". . . it was necessary to inform the people about other strategies the government was using to combat crime." As if the people didn't understand. South Africa has had some of the highest crime rates in the world in the ten years, since Mandela's comments. "The number of murders committed each year in the country is as high as 47,000, according to Interpol statistics." As of 2006, 72% of South Africans want the death penalty back. ("South Africans Support Death Penalty", 5/14/2006, Angus Reid Global Monitor : Polls & Research

NOTE: Some recent polls - with no mention of specific crimes.

97%+ of Guatemalans support the death penalty. 2.6% oppose
(telephone survey, newspaper Prensa Libre, 2/14/08)

79% support the resumption of hanging in Jamaica. 16% oppose. (Bill Johnson Polling for The Gleaner (Jamaica) Newspaper, 1/12-13/08

Two-thirds of Czechs for death penalty reintroduction - poll
Prague- Almost two-thirds of Czechs believe that death penalty should exist in the Czech Republic, while one-third believes the opposite, according to a poll the CVVM agency conducted in May and released. June 12, 2008,

Victim's Voices - These are the murder victims