Recently in Polls Category
A new poll from the Pew Research Center is the first to gauge reactions to last week's big CIA report on "enhanced interrogation techniques" -- what agency critics call torture.And the reaction is pretty muted.
The poll shows people says 51-29 percent than the CIA's methods were justified and 56-28 percent that the information gleaned helped prevent terror attacks.
Only a few
Structured questions in polls can give useful numbers, but open-ended questions can tell us some interesting things also. Art Swift of Gallup reported separately on an open-ended question that asked people for the reason behind their position on the main question.
On the standard question, asked since the 30s and best used for trends over time, support is 63%, about where it's been for the last decade. There is a strong difference by political party, but even among Democrats, the "yes" vote is a plurality, just shy of a majority.
On the very badly worded question that effectively asks people to specify a single punishment for all murders regardless of degree or circumstances, respondents chose the death penalty over life without parole by 50-45. This is up in the last few years. The LWOP choice was briefly a tick ahead, 48-47, in 2006.
The actual public policy question to be decided -- what punishment to impose on the very worst murderers -- was once again not asked.
My criticisms of poll wording on this topic are noted in this post last February.
Update: Not mentioned in the report linked above, but found in the linked data report, is a better question, "In your opinion, is the death penalty imposed -- [ROTATED: too often, about the right amount, or not often enough]?" This question is better because, unlike the other two, it at least partially addresses the fact that were are talking about a (small) subset of murders, not all murders. The result is 40% Not Enough, 28% About Right, 24% Too Often, and 9% No Opinion.
Support for capital punishment in its present scope or tougher is the sum of Not Enough and About Right, which comes to 68%. That's down somewhat from the historical average ("only" 2/3, rather than 3/4), but it still swamps the Too Often vote by well over 2-to-1.
However, as noted by in this post by Peyton M. Craighill and Scott Clement at The Fix, the WaPo's political blog (previously mentioned on this blog here) YouGov polls a self-selected sample, one of the worst ways to do polling. Actual support is likely much higher, as has been indicated in recent years by legitimate polls. See posts of 2010 and 2013.
A new state election polling collaboration between the New York Times, CBS News and internet pollster YouGov has drawn an unusual public rebuke from the leading organization of survey researchers, adding fuel to a fiery debate over what makes a poll "good" or "bad".I will venture a prediction that polls on crime issues that are based on self-selected samples from the Internet will show a large and immediate jump in the direction of soft-on-crime positions.
The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) criticized the Times and CBS for its state polling with YouGov, saying the survey methods used by the polls has "little grounding in theory" and a lagging disclosure of methodological details required to assess the poll's quality. In addition, AAPOR chided the Times for removing its published set of poll reporting standards which had mostly barred the use of opt-in internet surveys -- like those used by YouGov-- by the newsroom and replacing it with a note explaining that it has begun a process to review its polling standards.*
This report comes from Gallup's annual survey on moral acceptability of various issues, and Americans' views on the death penalty have proven remarkably stable. I noted this survey on the blog in 2010, and not much has changed. Here is an updated graph. Click for a larger view.
Given that current law only allows for the death penalty for an aggravated subset of murders and only after considering the defendant's case in mitigation, I consider the sum of "acceptable" and "it depends" to be the proper measure of support for the death penalty as it exists in America today. The "depends," BTW, is a "volunteered" answer, given by people who break out of the choices offered by the question to give their own. These numbers would surely be higher if the choice were offered in the question.
The variation over the last 13 years has barely budged outside the 4% sampling error confidence interval.
Last August, Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport made this short video about how polling shows that public opinion is highly changeable on some issues while it changes very little on others. Of all the issues Gallup surveys on, Newport chose the death penalty as his example of stability of public opinion.
A comfortable majority of those questioned -- 59% -- said they favor the death penalty as the ultimate punishment for murder, while 35% said they are opposed.
That split is in line with surveys done before Lockett's death in the last two years, and also reflects the erosion of support for capital punishment since the 1990s, when it was more than 70%."I don't think this fundamentally altered views about the death penalty," said Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies.
A majority of doctors say that medical marijuana should be legalized nationally and that it can deliver real benefits to patients, a new survey by WebMD/Medscape finds.
WebMD's web site for health professionals surveyed 1,544 doctors as more than 10 states consider bills to legalize medical marijuana. It is already legal in 21 states and Washington, DC.
Now this got me a little suspicious, since (1) the AMA only recently came out against legalization, saying point-blank that pot is a "dangerous drug," and (2) I couldn't figure out how a website could conduct a random survey.
Here's the trick. Way down at the very end, the WebMD entry says this (emphasis added): "WebMD's survey was completed by 2,960 random site visitors from Feb. 23 to 26, 2014. It has a margin of error of +/- 1.8%."
How cute. There is no such thing as a "random" site visitor. The people who visit a site are the ones who decide to click on it, and the people who decide to answer a poll on said site are the even narrower subset of those who want to be heard.
In other words, this "poll" has all the validity of a Glenn Beck site poll asking "random site visitors" whether Obama should be impeached. Anyone wanna guess the answer?
Americans feel even more strongly that the biggest problem with the criminal justice system is that too many criminals are set free. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 68% of U.S. adults believe that the bigger problem with law enforcement and the legal system is that too many criminals are released, not that too many innocent people are arrested. Eighteen percent (18%) hold the opposite view and think the bigger problem is that too many innocent people are arrested. Fifteen percent (15%) are undecided.
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.
As I have noted before here, though, the traditional question is deficient in that it could be understood to be asking about the death penalty for all murders or the typical murder. I would answer "no" to the question, so understood, myself.
Another question Gallup asks better reflects the actual policy question of whether we should impose the death penalty on the worst murderers: "In your opinion, is the death penalty imposed -- [ROTATED: too often, about the right amount, or not often enough]?" The sum of right+not enough constitutes support for the death penalty as it presently is or tougher.
By this measure, support is up a tad since 2011, the last time Gallup asked the question, and opposition is down a tad. "Right" + "not enough" totals 70%, up from 67%, while "too often" slips from 25% to 22%.