University of Southern California

Election 2012

Source Alert

Crime & Punishment

October 1, 2012

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California voters are overwhelmingly in favor of revising the state’s “three strikes” law, according to the latest results from the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll.

Two-thirds of voters — including 67 percent of voters who vote on ballot initiatives — said they support Proposition 36, which would change the “three strikes” law in California so that 25-years-to-life sentences are imposed only when the third felony is “serious or violent.” Twenty percent of voters oppose Prop. 36.

Latino voters were less likely than voters overall — and nearly 10 percentage points less likely than white voters — to support Prop. 36, with 59 percent of Latino voters in favor of revising “three strikes” and 27 percent opposed. Among white voters, 69 percent support the measure and 18 percent oppose it. Among black voters, 73 percent favor revising “three strikes” and 18 percent oppose it.

California voters were equally in favor of revising “three strikes” regardless of whether they were read a statement explaining the fiscal impact and estimated $70 million in state savings related to prison and parole operations: 66 percent of respondents who were read a fiscal impact statement favored Prop. 36, and 20 percent opposed it.

Men were more likely than women to oppose revising “three strikes,” with 24 percent of men opposed to Prop. 36 and 65 percent supporting the measure. Among women, 15 percent opposed the measure, and 69 percent supported it.

Across party lines, a majority of voters were in favor of revising “three strikes” in California: Prop. 36 was favored 70-18 among Democratic voters, 55-27 among Republican voters, and 70-16 among voters with no party preference.

Proposition 34: Death Penalty

Voters were much more split on the other criminal justice initiative on the November ballot, Proposition 34, which would repeal the death penalty in California and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The measure would apply retroactively to people already on death row.

“Opinions on the death penalty are fairly locked in,” says Dave Kanevsky, research director of Republican polling firm American Viewpoint, which conducted the poll with Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. “If this initiative is tied, it’s likely to lose, as undecideds generally break to the ‘no’ side and the fiscal argument does not move Republicans on the death penalty, as it moves voters on other initiatives.”

When read a brief statement about the proposition, 51 percent of voters opposed banning the death penalty and 38 percent supported it.

But the actual ballot wording of Prop. 34 narrowed the gap between the positions: After being read the ballot language, 45 percent of voters opposed repealing the death penalty and 43 percent supported it. The ballot language explains that people found guilty of murder must work while in prison, “with their wages applied to victim restitution fines.”

Voter opinion on Prop. 34 was virtually unchanged when voters were read a further statement explaining the fiscal impact related to trials and appeals that costs the state about $100 million annually. After hearing this statement explaining the fiscal impact of repealing the death penalty, 44 percent of voters supported Prop. 34, and 46 percent opposed it.

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