Capitol Alert

Field Poll: Californians split on death penalty

A corrections officer escorts an inmate back to his cell in East Block, a five-level facility that houses approximately 500 condemned inmates at San Quentin State Prison on December. 29, 2015, in San Quentin, Calif.
A corrections officer escorts an inmate back to his cell in East Block, a five-level facility that houses approximately 500 condemned inmates at San Quentin State Prison on December. 29, 2015, in San Quentin, Calif. rpench@sacbee.com

In an ongoing shift in public opinion about the death penalty in California, the number of state voters who favor doing away with capital punishment has grown to virtually the same size as those seeking to speed up the execution process, according to a new poll.

The Field Poll, released Friday, comes as state officials continue to grapple with legal challenges that have long stalled executions in the state.

When asked what the state should do in response, 48 percent of registered voters said California should take steps to speed up the process, according to the poll.

Forty-seven percent of registered voters said the state should do away with the death penalty and replace it with life sentences without the possibility of parole.

The result reflects a shift since September 2014, when Californians favored speeding the execution process by a 52 percent-to-40 percent margin.

“It’s certainly closer than it was when we first polled on it,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. “Voters seem to be moving toward the option of life in prison without the possibility of the parole, more than they have in the past.”

Voters seem to be moving toward the option of life in prison without the possibility of the parole more than they have in the past.

Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll

 

A Field Poll in 2014 found majority support for capital punishment, though at 56 percent it was the lowest level of support in nearly 50 years.

DiCamillo said California voters hold a more favorable opinion of the death penalty when asked about it in general terms, without considering “all the delays, all the caveats.”

“But that’s not what we’re asking here,” he said. “I think most voters would probably remain supportive of the death penalty, but in its implementation, it doesn’t seem to work.”

Voters in 2012 rejected a measure to repeal the death penalty by a 52 percent-to-48 percent margin. Opponents of capital punishment are working to put another repeal measure on the ballot, while supporters have proposed a measure to reduce the waiting time before executions are carried out.

The Brown administration in November proposed a new lethal injection method designed to restart executions after nearly a decade without one. The proposed method is under review.

Very clear lines here. It’s one of these divisive issues.

Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll

Public opinion on what to do about the death penalty is highly partisan, with a majority of Republicans calling for accelerated executions and a majority of Democrats calling for repeal.

Independent voters also favor doing away with the death penalty.

“Very clear lines here,” DiCamillo said. “It’s one of these divisive issues.”

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders

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