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Death Penalty Support At New High In Connecticut

The title of this post is from the headline of this press release from the Quinnipiac Poll.  Here is an excerpt from the press release (emphasis added):

Connecticut voters support the death penalty 67 - 28 percent, inching up to a new high, and say 48 - 43 percent that the penalty for first degree* murder should be the death penalty rather than life in prison with no chance of parole, also a new high, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

Support for the death penalty, 65 - 23 percent in an October 13, 2010, survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University, has inched up in every survey since the July 23, 2007, Cheshire murders. Support for the death penalty was 59 - 31 percent January 12, 2005, before the murders. In that same 2005 Quinnipiac University poll, Connecticut voters preferred life in prison without parole over the death penalty 49 - 37 percent.
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Offered three choices, 10 percent favor the death penalty for all people convicted of murder; 16 percent say no one should be executed and 73 percent say the death penalty depends on the circumstances of each case.
The first figure is from the standard question, similar to the one Gallup has been asking since the 30s, "Do you favor or oppose the death penalty for persons convicted of murder?"  Although poorly worded, it is useful for measuring trends over time simply because of the length of time it has been asked.

The second figure is for an extremely poorly worded question with little bearing on the actual controversy.  "Which punishment do you prefer for people convicted of murder, the death penalty or life in prison with no chance of parole?"  The implication is that the respondent must choose one punishment for all murderers.  If that were the question, I would choose LWOP myself, as strong a proponent of capital punishment as I am.  But that is not, of course, the question.

Curiously, the press release relegated to the fourth paragraph the best-worded question.  This is the one that best measures public opinion on the actual controversy:  "Which statement comes closest to your point of view? (A) All persons convicted of murder should get the death penalty. (B) No one convicted of murder should get the death penalty. (C) Whether or not someone convicted of murder gets the death penalty should depend on the circumstances of the case." 

Given that "all" is precluded by the Supreme Court's decision in Woodson v. North Carolina (1976), the actual choice is between "no one" and "depends on the circumstances."  Presumably everyone choosing (A) would pick (C) as their fallback position, so the real answer to the real question is  A+C v. B.  That is, 83-16.

The A+C v. B figure shows little variation by age of respondent and little change over the 11 years Quinnipiac has been asking the question.  There is not even all that much difference by political party -- R: 89-11; D: 72-26; I: 86-12.  The "gender gap" is also modest -- M: 87-12; W: 79-19.

* The "first degree" in the first paragraph of the press release is an error.  The poll question does not specify degree.

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