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Americans Oppose Death Penalty Abolition 2-to-1

At long last, a major polling organization has finally asked the American public the actual, central question of the death penalty debate in a national poll.

"Would you like to see the death penalty abolished nationwide, or not?"

Yes:  31%
No:   64%
Duh:   5%
You would think that would be the headline of the press release, right? 
As I have noted many times (see, e.g. this post and this one), polling on the death penalty has long suffered from badly worded questions.  That is why the results bounce all over the place depending on how the question is phrased. 

If you deliberately set out to craft a question that would produce the greatest impression of opposition to the death penalty, you could not beat this question:  "Which punishment do you prefer for people convicted of murder: the death penalty or life in prison with no chance of parole?"

The question fails to reach the central issue because it implies that the respondent is being asked to specify a single punishment for all murders.  It doesn't even limit the pool to first degree, much less allow consideration of mitigating circumstances in individual cases, as is currently the law.  So understood, I would answer that question LWOP myself.  On top of that, "no chance" implies a greater degree of certainty than the law can actually deliver.  We are now seeing murderers who killed at 17 getting paroled after the families were promised "no chance" at the time of sentencing.

The traditional wording, that Gallup has been asking since the 30s, is "Do you support or oppose the death penalty for persons convicted of murder?"  This wording also suffers from the one-size-fits-all problem.  It is useful for tracking trends given the long history of data, but that is all.

So, the March 22 Quinnipiac Poll asked all three variations, the good (44), the bad (27), and the ugly (28), and guess which one headlined the press release?



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Life without parole.

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