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Gallup Poll on Death Penalty

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Gallup is out with its annual poll on the death penalty.  The article is here, and the data are here.

On the question that comes closest to the actual issue to be decided, the poll is unchanged within the margin of error for the last six years.  That question is, "In your opinion, is the death penalty imposed -- [ROTATED: too often, about the right amount, or not often enough]?" 

In 2011, the answers were Too Often 25%, About Right 27%, and Not Enough 40%, which means that 67% favored current or greater application.  This year's numbers are 26, 26, and 39, respectively, well within the ±4% confidence interval.

The question Gallup has asked since 1936 is, "Are you in favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder?"  The question is misleading as it asks about the death penalty for murder generally rather than just the worst murders.  So understood, I would answer that question "no" myself.  Gallup seems oblivious to the deficiency in this question, though, and regularly headlines the results in its reports.  This year's "favor" answer to that question is the lowest since March 1972 (before Furman v. Georgia), and that is the headline on their report.

At least 6% of the sample answered "not enough" or "about right" to the better question and "oppose" to the old one.  At least 15% of the sample answered "oppose" to the old question yet did not answer "too often" to the better one.  Clearly, interpreting an "oppose" answer to the old question as opposition to the death penalty in all murder cases is not correct.  Many respondents do not see it that way.

Near Unanimity

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What is the highest level of agreement Gallup has ever polled on a public policy question?  Lydia Saad has this item from Gallup's vault, 75 years ago next week.  She doesn't say it's the highest, but it is hard to imagine anything above 97%.

The Unmentioned Obama Legacy: Rising Crime

Gallup's crime polling last month yielded some interesting results, apart from the surge in respect for the police.  In particular, the poll pointed to this little-noticed fact (emphasis added):

Americans' direct experience with crime is at a 16-year high, consistent with a gradual increase -- from 22% in 2001 to 29% today -- in the percentage saying that they or a household member was the victim of a robbery, vandalism or violent crime in the past year.

In the same poll, Americans' perceptions of the seriousness of crime nationally and in their local area was unchanged from 2015. But longer term, it has worsened slightly since 2001. As a result, while crime was not at the top of the candidates' or voters' agenda in the 2016 presidential campaign, the issue may be ripe for policymakers at all levels of government to address.

What's the smart way for Congress to address the problem of rising crime?  By decreasing the cost of committing crime, as sentencing reformers would have it?

The question answers itself.

Poll Analysis Kerfuffle

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The things people get angry about ...
Katy Murphy of Bay Area News Group has this story on the latest Field Poll.  Both of the death penalty propositions are ahead by single digits in this poll, though 10% remain undecided on 66.  The marijuana and gun control initiatives appear to be headed for approval.

Once again, Field gave its respondents only the confusing ballot language on 66.  That would accurately gauge the votes of people who will vote without consulting anything else and those who have already gotten information from other sources and made up their minds.  It would not, however, reflect the votes of people who have not yet made up their minds on the "down ballot" questions and will consult external sources before doing so.  Other polls that tell people in simple terms that 66 will speed up enforcement of the death penalty show it doing far better, as I noted earlier.

Golden State Poll

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The Hoover Institution at Stanford University has another poll from California, done by YouGov.

Conducted between Oct. 4 and 14, the survey's sample is 1,250 likely voters in the upcoming general election in California. The full results of the survey, which has a margin of error of +/-3.28 percent for the full weighted sample, can be found here.
This poll finds the repeal initiative only slightly behind and within the margin of error, 42-43.

Like the Field Poll noted last month, this poll described Proposition 66 only in the dry, neutral terms of the ballot label, making no mention that it will make enforcement of the death penalty more effective and more timely.   With this similarly uninformative wording, they get a similar result:  38% yes, 24% no, and 38% undecided.  That is a few percent more for yes and less for undecided than a month ago, but it still indicates that lack of information is the greatest threat to Proposition 66.

In contrast, the poll by the Institute for Social Research at Sacramento State noted less than two weeks ago, which used the words "speed up," came in at 51-20-29 on Prop. 66.

A few notes on the crosstabs ...

Cal DP Repeal Still Alive and Dying

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"Still alive and dying" is a running gag in Marty Feldman's Last Remake of Beau Geste.

SurveyUSA, a poll we have mentioned several times, has a new California poll, finding that Proposition 62, the death penalty repeal initiative, is losing 39-50.  That is a smaller margin than last time, but still wide.

As before, the poll did not ask about Proposition 66, the "make it work" initiative.

Trouble in Poll-Land

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We talk a considerable amount about polls on this blog, enough to devote a category to them.

But polling is getting harder, and the pollsters have done some belly flops in recent years, including the Kentucky Governor election and Brexit.  Ryan Knutson has this article in the WSJ on the challenges and responses.

The problem of the growing number of people who have only cellphones, no landline, and the legal prohibition on robocalling cell phones is well known.  Here is another problem I did not know about.

In 1997, 36% of households sampled agreed to participate in a poll, according to the Pew Research Center. Now it is 9%. This means thousands more calls must be made for a telephone survey to reach a sufficient sample.
Wow.  It's not just more calls.  How do we know the 9% who will talk to pollsters are representative of the 91% who will not?  Pollsters can match on demographics, but demographics are not everything.  Is it possible that willingness to take the poll correlates to views on the questions being asked, even after demographic adjustments are made?  That seems to me to be entirely plausible.

A variety of new polling methods are being used, but until they have a track record we won't know how valid they are.
The Gallup Poll has released results on its survey of American attitudes on the death penalty.  They are largely stable since 2011.  The better worded of the two questions is this:

In your opinion, is the death penalty imposed -- [ROTATED: too often, about the right amount, or not often enough]?
About 2/3 of respondents say about right or not enough, indicating support for capital punishment in its present use or greater.  This is a few percent lower than the 72% in 2001 when Gallup first asked the question, but still a very strong majority.


Justin McCarthy reports for Gallup:

Three in four Americans (76%) say they have "a great deal" of respect for the police in their area, up 12 percentage points from last year.

In addition to the large majority of Americans expressing "a great deal" of respect for their local police, 17% say they have "some" respect while 7% say they have "hardly any."

Gallup has asked this question nine times since 1965. The percentage who say they respect the police is significantly higher now than in any measurement taken since the 1990s and is just one point below the high of 77% recorded in 1967. Solid majorities of Americans have said they respect their local law enforcement in all polls conducted since 1965.

A Prop. 66 Landslide?

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The Institute for Social Research at Sacramento State U. has this poll of 622 likely California voters surveyed October 7-13.

Proposition 66 would aim to speed up the death penalty court process in California. For example, it would require the superior court to review initial petitions, increase the number of available attorneys to accept those appeals, and allow condemned inmates to be housed at any state prison.

Do you plan to vote 'YES' to change these death penalty court procedures, or 'NO' to make no changes to existing procedures?

51%      Yes (1)
20         No (2)
29         Undecided/Don't Know (8)
Justin McCarthy has this article for Gallup. 

Q:  In general, do you think the criminal justice system in this country is too tough, not tough enough or about right in its handling of crime?

A: 45% not tough enough, 35% about right, 14% too tough, 6% duh.

Gallup headlines the fact that "not tough enough" has dropped substantially over the years, but most of that drop has gone to the Goldilocks answer of "about right."  Despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth we have heard from academia and the press over the last decade or so, only 1 American in 7 thinks the system is too tough.

The other half of the split sample was asked specifically about drugs, with a quite different result:

SurveyUSA Poll on Prop. 62

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SurveyUSA has released another California poll.  As with the two previous polls (noted here and here), they surveyed on Prop. 62, the death penalty repeal initiative, but not on Prop. 66, the "fix it" initiative.

Prop. 62 has slipped three points since the previous poll and now trails by 18%.  The pollsters still characterize it as "headed for defeat."

Crosstabs (the breakdown by various groups within the total) haven't changed too much, although there is an interesting indication that repeal has lost considerable support with black voters.  For the survey collected Sept. 8 - Sept. 11, black voters favored 62 by a slim majority, 51-36.  However, for the most recent survey, conducted Oct. 13 - Oct. 15, the slim majority goes the other way, 41-52.  That is a change from +15% to -11%, or a 26% swing.  Crosstabs have higher margins of error than the overall poll due to the smaller sample size of the subgroups, so this result should be treated with caution, but even so that is quite a shift.
Gallup has a poll out today showing that, when asked to choose the higher priority between (1) strengthening law and order through more police and greater enforcement, or (2) reducing bias against minorities in the criminal justice system by reforming court and police practices,  49% choose the former and 43% the latter. The 6% difference is outside the margin of error.  The poll can be found here.

So how does this translate in terms of political advantage?  Specifically, is it smarter to run a national race prioritizing law and order, or prioritizing bias reduction?

Let me ask that question a different way:  Is 49% higher than 43%?

California Proposition Poll

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SurveyUSA has this poll on California's ballot propositions, among other things.

"Proposition 62, which would end the death penalty in CA and replace it with life in prison, trails by 15 points today and is headed for defeat." If that sounds familiar, it's nearly identical to what the same poll found about two weeks ago, noted in this post.

"Proposition 63, which outlaws large-capacity magazines and requires background checks on ammo purchases, leads by more than 2:1 and will pass." 

"Proposition 64, which would legalize, regulate and tax recreational marijuana, is supported 52% to 41%. Caution advised."

And Proposition 66, which would streamline the death penalty and allow us to restart executions?  They didn't poll on it.  Again.

The pollsters note:

Polling ballot measures and citizen initiatives is an inexact science. In general, having nothing to do with California specifically and having nothing to do with 2016 uniquely, opposition to a ballot measure increases as Election Day approaches. Rarely does support for a ballot measure increase over time. It is likely that opposition to Propositions 56, 62, 63 and 64 will increase once early voting begins on 10/10/16. This may alter the calculus on recreational marijuana Proposition 64, which today has the most fragile advantage of those measures tested.

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