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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

Who Wants A Larger Police Presence?

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From Gallup today:

Which would you prefer to see in your local area -- [ROTATED: a larger police presence than currently exists, no change, (or) a smaller police presence than currently exists]?

The report notes:

In general, though, majorities of these major groups profess wanting "no change" in the police presence in their local community. However, blacks are the least likely to say this at 51%, compared with Hispanics at 59% and whites at 74%. Only small percentages of any group say they want a smaller police presence than currently exists.
I suspect that the difference is not race as such but rather the likelihood of living in a high crime area.  If Gallup, or any poll, asks this question again, it would be interesting to record precisely where each respondent lives and then cross-tab that with actual local crime rate.

Of Drug Legalization and Flying Saucers

I have occasionally said here that support for the legalization of hard drugs is so low that it's never even been polled.

I was wrong.

I just found out that it was polled by the Huffington Post last year.

Also polled, by a different organization, was the belief that Earth has been visited by flying saucers.

Although a small majority now believes that pot should be legalized, flying saucers beat hard drugs by a fat margin.

Abolitionism versus Reality

Statement of abolitionism, via the head of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (interviewed by Salon):

"How death penalty politics radically, shockingly changed:  Death row's days are numbered..."

Statement of reality, via Gallup:

"Americans' Support for Death Penalty Stable.  WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Six in 10 Americans favor the death penalty for convicted murderers, generally consistent with attitudes since 2008."

For willingness to lie, belligerently and with a straight face, I have seldom encountered anything like the abolitionist movement.  The refrain is that public support for the death penalty has been crumbling in recent years, but the truth is otherwise (as abolitionists know while they continue to dissemble). 

Anyone who knows anything about polling will tell you that you can produce dramatic swings in results by how you phrase the question.  A common and blatant method of skewing a poll is to build arguments for one side into the question.

Public Policy Polling has done a poll on the Pennsylvania Governor's death penalty moratorium that is so blatantly worded that it reads like a parody of bad polling.  If an instructor gave his students an assignment to "draft the worst poll question you possibly can," it would read something like this:

Governor Wolf has temporarily paused executions in Pennsylvania until concerns about the risk of executing innocent people, the high cost of the death penalty, and serious issues of unfairness can be addressed by a bipartisan study commission. Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the decision to temporarily pause executions?
Yet even skewed to the max they didn't crack a majority.  "Strongly support" and "somewhat support" only totaled 50%.

They also asked the extremely biased "which punishment" question we have noted many times before, implying that the respondent must choose a single punishment for all murderers.

The press seems to be lapping this up, uncritically reporting the poll result with no mention of the extreme bias in the wording.  See, e.g., this article in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader.

The real news here is that support for the death penalty remains so robust that even a badly worded question like this can't generate a substantial majority.  No one seems to be getting that.
I'm preparing for a few debates and panels on sentencing reform when I return to the mainland next week.  In surveying the territory, I see three major questions that could use more definitive answers than they have now.  Indeed, I don't know how an informed debate is possible without pretty clear answers.

1.  How much of the huge drop in crime over the last 25 years is because of the increased use of incarceration?  The recent Brennan Center study, and the earlier but more neutral Levitt study, give wildly different answers.  

2.  What is the electorate's view of the current state of crime and punishment in America?  Does the public agree with the Attorney General that we have too many people in prison for too long, or does it think we aren't doing enough to keep people who commit crime off the street?  To my knowledge, this question has never been polled by any respected organization.

3.  Most people in the sentencing reform movement think we should start imposing shorter sentences and releasing thousands of inmates already serving their terms. Does the public think the sentencing system has made consistently sound, or unsound, decisions about who should go to jail and for how long? Does the public think, if we change the system, that roughly the same people will make consistently sound, or unsound, decisions about who is safe to release?

Race Relations Tank

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An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll published four days ago showed that, as our "national conversation" about race gets pumped by Eric Holder, Al Sharpton and like-minded opinion leaders, Americans view race relations as having hit their lowest point since the last century.

The reason for this seems evident to me.  The "national conversation" is not designed to promote understanding, cooperation or "healing"  --  the usual goals we get lectured about.  It's designed to promote anger, resentment and grievance. The poll suggests it's succeeding.

It was taken, of course, before the yesterday's avowedly racist police assassinations. 

Confidence in the Police

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Kent's last post showed that the police are vastly more trusted than, among others, lawyers.  

Gallup also did a survey about confidence in the police in other wealthy countries around the world. The results demonstrate that the United States is slightly above the middle.  It's just below Norway, Denmark and Sweden, and just ahead of Portugal, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

Specifically, 78% answered "yes" when asked, "In the city or area where you live, do you have confidence in the local police force, or not?" 

The survey is here.
A:  Not a whole lot.

The country seems to have figured out that the adult answer to the moral questions about aggressive interrogation is that, when thousands of innocent lives are at risk from an enemy who has shown he regards snuffing them out as the pathway to heaven, you do what you need to.  As today's Washington Post reports:

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.

Poll on Police Prejudice Against Blacks

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CNN published an interesting poll asking, "In general, how many police officers 
in the area where you live do you feel are prejudiced against blacks:  most of them, some of them, only a few of them, or almost none them?  The results were:












Only a few





Almost none





All (vol.)





None (vol.)







The most noteworthy aspect of the poll, I thought, was that nearly two-thirds of
the non-whites said that none, almost none, or only a few police were prejudiced.
Earlier today, I noted Gallup's most recent poll on people's attitudes on the death penalty.  That post was updated later with some further data.

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.

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