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May 15, 2014

Poll after ugly execution highlights enduring death penalty support and openness to various execution methods

As highlighted by this NBC News article, headlined "Americans Back Death Penalty by Gas or Electrocution If No Needle: Poll," a new poll seems to confirm my suspicion in this recent post that the ugly execution in Oklahoma would not change many modern capital perspectives. Here are the results of this poll:

A badly botched lethal injection in Oklahoma has not chipped away at the American public's support of the death penalty, although two-thirds of voters would back alternatives to the needle, an exclusive NBC News poll shows.

One in three people say that if lethal injections are no longer viable — because of drug shortages or other problems — executions should be stopped altogether, according to the survey of 800 adults by Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies for NBC News. But many others are open to more primitive methods of putting prisoners to death: 20% for the gas chamber, 18% for the electric chair, 12% for firing squad and 8% for hanging....

The most recent example of what can go wrong [with lethal injection] is the April 29 execution of Clayton Lockett, who appeared to regain consciousness and writhe in pain midway through. The procedure was halted but Lockett, convicted of rape and murder, died anyway. The details of his death were condemned by the White House and provoked fresh debate over capital punishment and how it's carried out.

Most people polled said they knew about the uproar, but it did not appear to change minds about whether the government should kill murder convicts. 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.

Republicans, whites, Protestants and older people were more likely to favor execution than Democrats, blacks and Latinos, Catholics and young people. More than a third of those in favor said the strongest argument for the death penalty is that it's an "appropriate consequence." A similar proportion of those against it said the risk of killing someone who had been wrongly convicted was the most powerful argument....

All 35 capital punishment states use lethal injection as their primary method, although eight of them would allow electrocution, gas, hanging or firing squad in some cases, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. But lethal injections are becoming increasingly difficult to carry out because pharmaceutical companies don't want their products used, some compounding pharmacies are getting out of the execution business, and inmates are trying to force states to reveal their suppliers.

Some state lawmakers have introduced measures that would bring back the older methods, but some pro-execution advocates believe that would lower support from a public that has gotten used to "medicalized" deaths.

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May 15, 2014 at 09:39 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Broad public opinion is important, but the opinions of elites also matter disproportionately w/r/t to what actually happens with death penalty policy. These gruesome executions may not move the needle with the general population, but it may be a different story with judges, lawyers, and policy makers. Or maybe not. But I wouldn't assume that surveys like this predict the full impact of this situation.

Posted by: BB | May 16, 2014 2:32:10 PM

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