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Ohio DP Poll

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Quinnipiac Polling Institute has this poll in Ohio, mostly about the governor's race but also with a couple of questions about the death penalty.  Unfortunately, it appears that Quinnipiac is backsliding on the questions it asks.

As I have noted several times on this blog, the main problem in death penalty polling is that the questions often fail to distinguish between the penalty for the typical murder, which most people agree should be life in prison, and the penalty for the worst murders, which is the actual point of debate.

The generic question in death penalty polls, which Gallup has been asking since the 30s, goes something like Question 40 in this poll, "Do you favor or oppose the death penalty for persons convicted of murder?"  This question understates actual support for the death penalty for the worst murders, merely asking about murder generally.  Even phrased that way, however, the death penalty is favored by more than a 2-to-1 margin, 68-26.  The death penalty is heavily favored in every political affiliation, both sexes, and every age group.

So what does the heading of the press release say?  "Voters Divided on Death Penalty"

To get "divided," it is necessary to skew the question to the max in favor of the anti side.
Question 41 is, "Which punishment do you prefer for people convicted of murder; the death penalty, life in prison with no chance of parole, or life in prison with a chance of parole?"

Note that, once again, the respondents are being asked to specify a punishment for murder generally.  Not the very worst murders.  Not even first-degree murder.  If that were really the public policy question, if we really had to choose a one-size-fits-all punishment, I would answer life-without-parole myself.

With this very badly worded question, the death penalty comes in about even with the two life imprisonment possibilities combined.  Once one understands that the question is badly skewed, it's pretty remarkable that support for the death penalty is robust enough to maintain that level of support despite the skewing.

Three years ago in Connecticut, Quinnipiac asked a far better question, one that comes much closer to the actual public policy question at issue:  "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."   C is current death penalty law.  A was declared unconstitutional in Woodson v. North Carolina.  B is the abolition position.  So support for current law or tougher is the sum of A and C.  The Connecticut poll produced a 83-16 margin in a very liberal state.

Why did Quinnipiac drop the question that measures sentiment on the actual issue to be decided and retain a very badly skewed question?

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Just as revealing, and just as skewed, is the death penalty poll I noted a few days ago in my entry, "Pop Quiz on Astronomy and the Death Penalty."

I cited a Gallup poll whose headline was, "U.S. Death Penalty Support Lowest in More Than 40 Years."

You had to read down the page some to find out that support remained at or above 60% for the fortieth straight year. You had to read even further down the page to find out that the number thinking the death penalty is not imposed often enough ROSE from its level two years before (from 40 to 44 percent), and that the number thinking it's imposed too often FELL (from 25 to 22 percent).

The headline could just a easily have been, "After Years of Attacks, Only a Fifth of Americans Say the Death Penalty Is Imposed Too Often."

The press is beyond shameless in the way it handles criminal law issues. For the death penalty, which it dislikes, it puts up the headline you note about support being "divided." For legalized pot, which it loves, the headline is, "Support for Legalizing Marijuana Surges Across the Nation," when what even the most favorable poll shows in that legalized pot does not have and has never had as much support as the death penalty has even with the most skewed poll question.

As I say, it's beyond shameless.

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