Varying Poll Results on Death Penalty Leaves Unclear Picture

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

It was interesting to see opponents of the death penalty embrace the findings of a Pubic Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll soon after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a moratorium on the death penalty but remain relatively silent on the much narrower results from a subsequent Quinnipiac University poll on the same subject.

When PPIC announced that likely voters backed life without parole over the death penalty by 58% to 38%, headlines trumpeted that Gov. Newsom had his finger on the pulse of California political sentiment.

When a month later Quinnipiac found that life in prison with no chance of parole was chosen over the death penalty 48% to 41% the headlines, not so numerous, also argued that Californians were opposed to the death penalty, with a few reports noting the much narrower result compared to the PPIC poll. Quinnipiac stated there was a 4.1% margin of error in its poll, which could mean the views on the death penalty are about even.

Quinnipiac also showed a split opinion from voters on Newsom’s moratorium declaration. While 44% approved of the moratorium, 46% opposed.

Polling doesn’t always capture the true sentiment of voters when it comes to their final decision-making. PPIC also found wide favoritism to life in prison in 2012 prior to voters taking the opposite stand in backing the death penalty in elections that followed.

The poll reflected on the general concepts of the death penalty versus the idea of locking up murderers for the rest of their lives. However, stories of specific cases of brutal murder and torture could change the minds of voters that the worst of the killers deserve to die.

That approach is the goal of a group of family members of murder victims. They intend to visit all 80 Assembly and 40 Senate districts on a tour called “Victims of Murder Justice” to tell their horror stories about the torture and death of loved ones.

In addition, post-Newsom’s announcement and the poll releases, prosecutors announced they intended to seek the death penalty for the Golden State Killer for his murderous rampage. Seeking justice against Joseph DeAngelo, charged with the high profile murders, will keep the issue of the death penalty up front in voters’ minds.

Gavin Newsom sees himself as a pathfinder on many issues and will not back down from his death penalty position. But the people will have final say on the death penalty.

This death penalty debate could shake-up California elections in 2020 especially if the proposed constitutional amendment to abolish the death penalty makes the ballot. My guess is that a number of Democrats don’t want to have to defend abolishing the death penalty and the two-thirds vote necessary may not be there to place the abolishment measure on the ballot.

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