United States polls: life sentence or death penalty?


United States polls: life sentence or death penalty?

Three national polls on the death penalty have been published between 1 and 4 June 2015 and each gave different results on the main question: would you rather back the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole? For two of the surveys the majority of Americans prefer life sentences, for one they prefer death sentences. But when in one of the surveys that gives an overwhelming life sentence support, a terrorism hypothesis is added, the results have a dramatic change.

On 1 June, the Quinnipiac University poll was released, according to which 48% prefer life imprisonment, and 43% prefer death. On 4 June, it was released the Gallup poll, according to which 45% prefer life imprisonment, and 50% death. On 4 June, it was also released the ABC News/Washington Post poll, according to which 52% are pro-life imprisonment, and 42% pro-death. The Quinnipiac survey is more accurate because it has a sample of 1,700 respondents, while the other two have 1,000. But it is the Quinnipiac poll that may explain such diverse data.

Quinnipiac adds two hypotheses: in the case of terrorism, and in the case of Tsarnaev, the young man of Chechen origin that a federal jury on 15 May sentenced to death for the massacre at the Boston Marathon. Assuming generic "terrorism", the percentages becomes life imprisonment 36% against 58% death. Assuming "terrorism" with explicit reference to Tsarnaev, the death percentage rises again, up to 62%, while the “life” option drops to 34%. With these wide variations, an average of the three surveys may be calculated as follows: on the blunt question between life imprisonment and death, on average 48.3% of Americans have responded life imprisonment, 45% death. The inclusion in one of the three surveys of terrorism hypothesis reverses the outcome, and the average is about 51% death and about 44% life imprisonment.

In the picture, the front page of Times' June issue.