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A Correctly Worded Death Penalty Poll in North Carolina

As we have noted a number of times on this blog, the question wording in polls about the death penalty produces widely varying results.  The most common failure in poll questions on this subject is to ask a question that implies the respondent is being asked to specify a punishment for murder generally rather than the worst murders.  Punishment for the worst murders is the actual policy question to be decided.  Virtually no one today is arguing we should execute all murderers, yet poll respondents are regularly asked that.

Now we see a ray of light in the darkness.  The High Point University/News & Record Poll asked a question that is worded far better than the big boys at Gallup et al. seem to be able to manage.  A sample of 446 North Carolina residents were asked between Sept. 26 and Oct. 1:

"Thinking in general about your views of the death penalty, are there any crimes for which you believe people should receive the death penalty?"

HPU N&R Poll - Death penalty - Oct. 2015

Yes - 72 percent

No - 24 percent

Don't know/refused - 4 percent

What happens when you just ask about the death penalty for murder generally (an irrelevant question since no state has the death penalty for murder generally)?

"Do you strongly favor, favor, oppose or strongly oppose the death penalty for persons convicted of murder?"

Strongly favor - 30 percent

Favor - 33 percent

Oppose - 17 percent

Strongly Oppose - 11 percent

Don't know/refused - 9 percent

Some people who believe there are crimes for which people should get the death penalty do not say they favor it for unspecified murder.  Similarly, more people oppose the death penalty for unspecified murder than say that no one should get the death penalty.

There is remarkably little variation on this by state or region.  The people of Connecticut are pretty much the same on this as the people of North Carolina.

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