University of Southern California

Election 2012

Source Alert

Death Penalty: Divided

October 30, 2012

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With the November election looming, the fight to repeal the death penalty in California has gotten a lot closer, according to the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll.

In a 10-point swing since last month, 42 percent of voters now support repealing the death penalty and 45 percent oppose it. The survey respondents were read a brief statement describing Proposition 34, a ballot measure that would ban the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

In September, 38 percent of voters supported Proposition 34, and 51 percent opposed it.

“There’s no question that there has been a sharp shift in favor of a ban on the death penalty, which seems to have resulted from the fact that the initiative’s supporters have been able to fund a much larger advertising campaign than the opposition,” says Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “The Proposition 34 campaign has been on the air and making up ground, but it is historically difficult to pass a ballot measure after it’s been below 50 percent.”

Support for banning the death penalty increased even further when voters were read the ballot language for Proposition 34, rather than a brief statement. The ballot language includes an explanation of the fiscal impact of the measure, with estimated savings from trials and appeals of $100 million in the first few years, growing to $130 million annually after that; it also states that people found guilty of murder must work while in prison, with their wages applied to victim restitution.

When read the ballot language, including fiscal impact, a plurality of voters support repealing the death penalty: 45 percent of voters support Proposition 34 and 42 percent oppose it, with 11 percent undecided.

When read the ballot language, white voters were evenly split on repealing the death penalty, 43-43. Forty-seven percent of minority voters support repealing the death penalty, including 50 percent of black voters and 48 percent of Latino voters. Forty-one percent of minority voters oppose Proposition 34, including 35 percent of black voters and 39 percent of Latino voters.

Older voters were also evenly split on repealing the death penalty when read the ballot language. Forty-four percent of voters over age 50 support Proposition 34, and 44 percent oppose it. Among voters aged 18-49, 46 percent support Proposition 34, and 40 percent oppose it.

California Voters Support Revising “Three Strikes” Law

In addition, California voters are overwhelmingly in favor of Proposition 36, which would revise the state’s “three strikes” law and impose life sentences only when the third felony conviction is “serious or violent.”

More than two-thirds of registered Democratic voters and voters with no party preference are in favor of Proposition 36. Among Democratic voters, Proposition 36 is ahead 70-18; among voters with no party preference, the measure is ahead 68-19. The proposition also has majority support among California’s registered Republicans, with 53 percent supporting a revision to the “three strikes” law and 35 percent opposed.

“This is what happens when tough-on-crime conservatism meets fiscal conservatism in an era of tight budgets,” Schnur says. “Unless the opposition can convince voters that the criminals being affected by this are still dangerous, Proposition 36 looks pretty safe.”

Overall, 64 percent of California voters support Proposition 36 after being read the ballot language, and 24 percent oppose it. With relatively low levels of advertising spending, voter opinion on the ballot initiative has remained steady since the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll conducted in September, when 67 percent of voters supported Proposition 36 and 18 percent opposed it.

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