Recently in Polls Category

In mid-August, Bill and I both noted a poll by the Institute for Government Studies at Berkeley on the competing death penalty propositions.  That poll found the repeal proposition losing by 45-55 and the reform proposition winning by a landslide 76-24.  See also the IGS press release.

Last week, I noted a SurveyUSA poll showing the repeal proposition "trails by 16 points today and is headed for defeat."  Also noted the same day was a USC/LA Times/SurveyMonkey poll showing Prop. 62 down by 11%.  Neither of these polls asked about the reform measure, Prop. 66.

Now we have a poll done by Field and IGS, the same organization as the first poll above, that has a dramatically different result.  This one shows repeal at 48% yes, 37% no, and 15% undecided, while the reform measure is at 35% yes, 23% no, and 42% undecided.

As Seinfeld would say, what's up with that?  Has there been a dramatic shift in public opinion since the first IGS poll?  Not likely, given the essentially consistent results on 62 in the other two recent polls.

When I see dramatic differences like this in polls, the first thing I suspect is wording of the questions.

Another Poll Note

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Jazmine Ulloa has this post on the LA Times political blog noting a "a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll conducted by SurveyMonkey."  This one shows Prop. 62 losing by 11%, 40-51. 

I have my doubts about SurveyMonkey's method, and I wouldn't put too much weight on it.  Self-selected samples are dicey, even when "corrected" for demographic factors.  Nate Silver and crew at 538 rate SurveyUSA an "A" and SurveyMonkey a "C-."  Even so, when multiple sources give you more-or-less consistent results, it does boost confidence in those results. 

There is an interesting contrast in the two polls on the age crosstab.

SurveyUSA: Prop. 62 Headed for Defeat.

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SurveyUSA has this poll, conducted for four California TV stations. Among the findings:

"Proposition 62, which would end the death penalty in CA and replace it with life in prison, trails by 16 points today and is headed for defeat." 

The overall result is 36% yes, 52% no, 12% undecided.  They did not poll on Prop. 66, the reform initiative.  The poll has some interesting crosstabs, and some quirky ones.
Bill noted earlier today the poll by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.  Let's look a little more at these data.

Four years ago, we defeated a death penalty repeal initiative, but the opponents got closer than they should have.  I believed at the time that the reason was not opposition to the death penalty as such but rather the success of the opponents in blocking enforcement of the death penalty and the absence of a reform alternative on the same ballot.

The topline results of the new poll tend to confirm this hypothesis.  For the repeal initiative, the poll found 45.1% in favor and 54.9% opposed.  For the reform initiative, the poll found 75.7% in favor and 24.3% opposed.  At a minimum, then, one fifth of the people of California intend to vote for both initiatives.  That is, if all of the 24.3% who intend to vote no on reform vote in favor of repeal, then 20.8% who intend to vote for reform also intend to vote for repeal.  If anyone intends to vote no on both, though I'm not sure why anyone would, then the "yes on both" vote is that much larger.  A large segment of the population of California is so fed up with the status quo that, although they would like to see the system fixed, they would rather scrap it than go on as we are.

The "crosstabs" are also interesting.  What would happen if California Democrats decided this issue by themselves?
A report out today from the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley states:

California voters oppose an effort to abolish the death penalty and strongly support a competing measure that would streamline procedures in capital cases, according to a new poll released today by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Respondents opposed the abolition measure 55.1 percent to 44.9 percent, while three out of four respondents supported the streamlining proposition, the survey found. Since the two measures conflict, if both should pass, the measure receiving more votes would take effect.

The poll used online English-language questionnaires to survey respondents from June 29 to July 18. All respondents were registered California voters, and the responses were then weighted to reflect the statewide distribution of the California population by gender, race/ethnicity, education and age. The sample size for the questions on the two death penalty initiatives was 1,506 respondents for one question and 1,512 for the other.

The chances that a UC Berkeley poll would overstate support for the death penalty are the same as the chances that I'll be giving $10,000 to Black Lives Matter.


Frank Newport reports for Gallup:

Americans' confidence in the police has edged back up this year after dropping last year to its lowest point in 22 years. Currently, 56% of Americans have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the police, four percentage points higher than in 2015. Confidence is essentially back to where it was before a series of highly publicized incidents involving white police officers and young black men in several communities across the country.
Alyssa Davis has this report for Gallup with the above title.

Story Highlights
    53% worry "a great deal" about crime, compared with 39% in 2014
    44% are concerned about drug use, also up significantly since 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' level of concern about crime and violence is at its highest point in 15 years. Fifty-three percent of U.S. adults say they personally worry "a great deal" about crime and violence, an increase of 14 percentage points since 2014. This figure is the highest Gallup has measured since March 2001.

Electability

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Philip Bump at the WaPo's Fix political blog has this look at general election match-up polls. Not only has Donald Trump come off the worst in heads-ups matches with Hillary Clinton throughout the election season, but he is trending downward.  Ted Cruz does better, and just as importantly he is trending up.

John Kasich does the best of the three, but frankly I don't see any substantial chance of him being the nominee.

Minorities' Trust in Police Nearly Doubles

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I am not necessarily an optimist by nature, but news today from Gallup put a smile on my face.  For the same reason, it will doubtless bring frowns to those who've been insisting that, in order to gain the confidence of minorities, the police must bow their heads in shame and quit arresting crooks.  This is how today's Gallup story leads off:

After dipping to 48% in 2014 amid a national firestorm over police treatment of young black men, the rating Americans give the honesty and ethical standards of police has rebounded to 56%. This is more consistent with the 54% to 58% ratings Gallup found between 2010 and 2013....Four in 10 nonwhites now rate the ethical standards of police as very high or high -- a sharp increase from the 23% who held this view in 2014.

This is particularly encouraging because the anti-police propaganda has, if anything, accelerated in 2015 with, for example, the continuing, aggressive mendacity of the Black Lives Matter movement, as chronicled here.

I might add that trust in police is two and a half times the trust in lawyers, which, at 21%, might hopefully make attorneys more open to re-examining their "client-always-first, truth-always-second" ethos.  With that as their ethical "standard," how much trust do they think they deserve?

Finally, I am grateful that Gallup did not poll trust in law professors.

UPDATE: I wrote this before I saw Kent's post, but I'm leaving it up because it takes a slightly different slant. I also do not entirely agree with Kent's observation about trust in lawyers not being as bad as you might think.   When only one in five people thinks well of the legal profession, what you have is a profession that needs to change the way it does business. 
The recent spate of police-bashing apparently has not made a long-term impact on Americans' opinions of police officers.  Lydia Saad has this report for Gallup with the above title:

After dipping to 48% in 2014 amid a national firestorm over police treatment of young black men, the rating Americans give the honesty and ethical standards of police has rebounded to 56%. This is more consistent with the 54% to 58% ratings Gallup found between 2010 and 2013.

Four in 10 nonwhites now rate the ethical standards of police as very high or high -- a sharp increase from the 23% who held this view in 2014. A steep drop in nonwhites' ratings of the police in 2014 was the sole cause of the profession's overall ratings dip last year. While nonwhites' attitudes have not rebounded to their pre-2014 levels, the slight increase in whites' positive views of the police this year, from 59% to 64%, coupled with the rise in nonwhites' ratings, pushes the overall percentage back to the "normal" range seen in recent years.
Gallup's long-term trend graph shows that the 56% number is higher than at any time in the first 23 years they asked the question, 1977-2000.  This opinion of the police started off a dismal 37% in 1977, climbed slowly with a couple setbacks until 2000, then spiked after 9/11.

Among the professions, nurses are still tops in the public's ethics esteem.  Lawyers don't do as badly as you might think, a tad below the middle.
Congress, by far the least trusted of public institutions, is about to test how oblivious it can be to amply justified public alarm.

A new Washington Post story is grim, but might conceivably get our legislators to wake up:


Crime has become the biggest problem in Washington, D.C. residents say, far surpassing concerns about the economy and the quality of public schools for the first time in almost a decade, according to a new Washington Post poll.

After a year in which homicides have spiked, fewer D.C. residents said their neighborhood is safe, the poll found. Following high-profile attacks that have rattled neighborhoods from Chevy Chase in upper Northwest to Anacostia in Southeast, 1 in 4 respondents said they feel "not too" or "not at all" safe in their communities, up from less than 1 in 5 in 2011. More than 1 in 3 said crime is the biggest problem facing the city, up from 12 percent four years ago.

The concern comes as the nation's cities have seen homicide rates reverse after more than two decades of steady declines.


This same thing is happening from coast to coast.  For the first time in a generation, crime is spiking.  So here's the bottom line question:  Is this the moment Congress will choose to go easier on those  --  largely drug pushers  --  doing the spiking?  Is Congress really that obtuse?  That uncaring?  That hoodwinked or bullied by billionaire money pushing the Obama/Sharpton "America-is-too-mean" agenda?

As Congress considers the SRCA, we may soon find out.

Republicans control Congress and will properly be held to account for the legislation it adopts.  If the Republican Party wants to buy responsibility for going softer on crime in the midst of a violent crime wave, that is its choice to make. But it should do so with its eyes open.

Gallup now tells us what we could have been expecting, what with the surge in murder over (at least) the last six months.  Its report is aptly titled, "More Americans Say Crime Is Rising in U.S."

Government data on actual crime rates in 2015 will not be released until next year, so it is not possible to know whether Americans' perceptions of rising crime this year reflect what is currently happening in the U.S. In many large cities across the country, violent crime rates have spiked in 2015, suggesting that national crime figures could be on the rise. News reports of this increased violence may account for the uptick in perceived violence in the latest poll.

If Republicans get hectored, bullrushed or hoodwinked into adopting reduced sentences for felons, they will have earned  --  and they will get  --  the fate of other groups who allow themselves to be hectored, bullrushed or hoodwinked.  Tragically, however, it will not be just foolhardy Republicans who pay the price.  The most fearsome price will be paid by the hundreds or thousands of additional crime victims.
"Push polling" is the name given to poll questions designed by their sponsors to produce the answer they want. Reason Magazine, a libertarian outlet that supports drug legalization, recently reported on a poll commissioned by the pro-offender group Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).  The magazine breathlessly reports:

A new poll finds that more than three-quarters of Americans favor abolishing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders, a big jump in support since the last time the question was asked. The survey, commissioned by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) and conducted last week by Public Opinion Strategies, asked 800 registered voters, "Would you favor or oppose eliminating mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent offenders so that judges have the ability to make sentencing decisions on a case‐by‐case basis?" Seventy-seven percent of the respondents thought that was a good idea, compared to 59 percent in 2008.

Oh, OK.  How 'bout if we ask this instead:

"Would you favor or oppose eliminating mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent offenders so that judges have the ability to make sentencing decisions on a case‐by‐case basis, knowing that (1) the recidivism rate for offenders is 77%, (2) drug trafficking routinely breeds violence, and (3) judges' 'discretion' will virtually always be used to give more lenient sentences to criminals?"

Think we might get a different answer if we told the truth about what's actually going on?
Andrew Dugan has this report for the Gallup Poll with the above title.

Still, there is no denying that the opponents have made inroads.  The number of people answering "not in favor" to Gallup's poorly worded basic question is the highest it has been since before Furman v. Georgia in 1972, when the Supreme Court's audacious act of judicial activism precipitated a sharp drop in opposition and a sharp jump in support.

On the better-worded, but still less than ideal, question of whether the death penalty is presently imposed too often, about right, or not often enough, the sum of about right and not enough is still 2/3 of the population.  That remains a powerful supermajority in favor.  Dugan writes:

By many metrics -- the number of states that have banned the death penalty, the number of executions carried out or the actual population of inmates currently on death row -- the death penalty appears to be losing popularity in statehouses and courthouses across the country. But the public at large continues to support the use of the death penalty. A majority continue to assess the punishment as applied fairly, and a plurality wish it were applied more often.
The biggest problem is that the other side has all the megaphones.  Academia enforces adherence to anti-death-penalty dogma.  We saw that when the economists who dared to publish studies showing deterrence were hounded out of the field.  In journalism, balanced reporting is the exception, and propaganda pieces on the anti side dominate.

Yet despite all that, the side of justice still has two-thirds.  It's both discouraging and heartening at the side time.
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

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