DEATH WATCH NC: Misleading Poll Claims Huge Death Penalty Support


“The Civitas Institute, a libertarian group based in Raleigh, has released a new poll purporting to show that support for the death penalty in North Carolina has increased, and that voters support commencing executions immediately.  What the poll actually shows is that Civitas is not above misleading voters to get the results it wants.

Any pollster will tell you that the results are only as good as the questions you ask.  Civitas’ first question was, “Do you favor or oppose the death penalty for those convicted of first-degree murder in North Carolina?”  The actual choice made by juries in capital cases is not between the death penalty and no punishment at all.  Civitas did not feel the need to inform the 600 registered voters it questioned that the alternative to the death penalty in North Carolina is life without the possibility of parole, a severe punishment which ensures that the offender will never be free again.  In any actual death penalty case, the jury considers a number of factors about the defendant and the crime that help guide them in their decision between these two choices.  No mention of those here.  Really all Civitas has told us is that a majority of North Carolinians favor the death penalty as an abstract concept.  This is not news.  But when you give people information – about wrongful convictions, about corruption at the state crime lab, about any number of things Civitas does not want to talk about – their surface-level support for the death penalty begins to wane.

Civitas’ second question is based on a premise that is outright false.  “As you may know, currently no executions for those sentenced to death can occur due to a loophole in North Carolina law.  Do you favor or oppose allowing executions to resume for those convicted felons sentenced to death?”  It is a sad day in this country when people have to be constantly reminded that the Constitution is not a loophole.  Executions have been on hold in this state since a judge ordered an examination of whether the state was killing people in an unconstitutional manner.  The judge has not yet been satisfied that the state is willing and able to comply with a basic tenet of state and federal law that has been in place for centuries.  This is not a loophole, it is the law itself.  Civitas could not be bothered to explain.  They used the word “loophole” knowing that it strike a chord with voters who are naturally inclined to be wary of sneaky attempts to get around the truth.  Perhaps voters should be wary of Civitas.

A different poll released just weeks ago shows the effect that a deeper understanding of the issues can have.  When told about recent problems at the state crime lab, sixty-eight percent of respondents said that executions should not proceed until the extent of the misconduct had been fully investigated.  When told that having the death penalty costs our cash-strapped state at least eleven million dollars a year, just a quarter of respondents preferred death over life without the possibility of parole.  Note that 80% of those surveyed identified themselves as politically moderate or conservative.  While most people favor the death penalty as a theoretical concept, far fewer are so thirsty for executions to occur that they would sacrifice the millions of dollars – and possibly even innocent lives – it takes to maintain the system.  When the General Assembly goes back into session later this month, one can only hope that they too take the more informed approach.”


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