A PATH TO CLOSURE: Poll questions show a potential legislative path to an alternative to the death penalty. The Arkansas death chamber has been idle for years.
The Arkansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty
periodically polls state attitudes on the death penalty and it's provided me with its latest sounding. A solid, though declining, majority supports the death penalty. But significant support can be found for one alternative.
Here are key findings by Opinion Research Associates of 402 likely voters.
67 percent (46 strongly, 21 somewhat) favor
28 percent oppose
This represents a decline from 77 percent in favor in 1992 and 70 percent in 2008.
Support is evident in almost all sectors, with differences. Republicans are more in favor than Democrats, whites more than blacks (who oppose it overall), men more than women, fundmanetalist Christians more than mainstream Protestants or Catholics.
Replaced by life in prison with no parole for at least 25 years.
parole eligibility after 40 years
Replaced by life with no chance for parole
55-44 in favor (up from 49-42 in 1992). Surveyors noted that almost a third of those who identify as strongly in favor of the death penalty are favorably inclined toward this alternative.
Respondents were asked if they'd be more or less likely to vote for a legislator who replaced the death penalty with life without chance of parole.
15% said more likely, 36% less likely and 45% no difference.
Pollsters found people weren't moved by the suggestion that the death penalty isn't much of a crime deterrent. Far more effective was the statement that innocent people had been put to death. 46% said knowing this made them less likely to support the death penalty. 39% said it made no difference. 13% said it made them more likely to support the death penalty (!?!)
The risk of executing innocent people topped concerns about the death penalty, with 86 percent seeing it as a "serious problem." Next came excessive delays (56%), then bias against the poor (47%), then racial bias (37%), then cost (32%), then morality (31%).
Here's the full survey.
A change in status here seems a long shot, given 86% Republican support for the death penalty and a Republican majority legislature. But there are practical considerations. Arkansas hasn't had an execution in almost nine years, since November 2005. Questions about the lethal injection cocktail seem likely to hamper a resumption for a good while to come. Thirty-one men are on Arkansas Death Row, one since 1989. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel
was right. It is, at a minimum, time for a discussion about a penalty so little used, so expensive and so irreversible when applied to the innocent.