Pollsters See Close Votes on Death Penalty

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By Lance J. Rogers

Sept. 27— Do the voters in California and New Mexico want the death penalty to be an option at sentencing?

A recent poll in New Mexico shows that 59 percent of registered voters support the governor’s push to bring back the death penalty for those convicted of killing cops or children.

But the crystal ball is a bit murkier in California.

Two surveys in the Golden State indicate that slightly more than half the voters contacted said they don't want to get rid of capital punishment and replace it with life in prison.

But a competing survey suggests otherwise, with a plurality of the likely voters favoring abolition.

Survey Says

A California ballot initiative that’s asking voters to abolish the death penalty is headed to defeat this November, according to a pair of polls conducted by SurveyUSA and SurveyMonkey.

The poll conducted by SurveyUSA was released Sept. 12 and indicates that 52 percent of respondents said they will vote “no,” 36 percent will vote “yes” and 12 percent are still “undecided.” The SurveyMonkey numbers from a Sept. 1-8 survey show a similar breakdown: 51 percent leaning towards a “no” vote, 40 percent favoring a “yes” vote and 9 percent leaving “no answer.”

These numbers are consistent with a poll conducted by the Institute for Government Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, which was released Aug. 18.

But a poll released Sept. 22 by the IGS and the Field Research Corporation at U.C. Berkeley, now says that 48 percent of likely voters favor repealing the death penalty. The joint poll says that just 37 percent of the respondents indicated they would vote against the repeal, while 15 percent are undecided.

Proposition 62, which would replace capital punishment with life without parole, is one of two competing measures that will be on the ballot this fall.

Proposition 66 would keep capital punishment on the books, but would streamline the procedure for challenging the sentences by limiting the number of petitions prisoners can file and setting tighter deadlines designed to expedite appeals.

According to the Sept. 22 Field/IGS poll, 42 percent of the likely voters indicated that are undecided about Proposition 66. Of those offering an opinion, 35 percent said they would vote “yes” and just 3 percent said they would vote “no.”

Bring it Back

In New Mexico, a survey by commissioned by the NM Political Report found that 59 percent of registered voters in that state support Republican Governor Gov. Susana Martinez’s proposal to restore the death penalty for cop- and child-killers.

The August poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, indicates that 34 percent of registered voters support the status quo and that 8 percent are undecided.

New Mexico repealed capital punishment in 2009.

Although the death penalty is still legal in 30 states, there is a growing movement to abolish it.

In just the past 10 years, seven states have abolished capital punishment and the governors of Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Pennsylvania have temporarily halted executions in those states.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lance J. Rogers in Washington at LRogers@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at rlarson@bna.com

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