Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Marylanders Changing Their Minds on the Death Penalty

The conventional wisdom that Maryland is a pro-death penalty state is becoming less true by the day. New data from Gonzales Research paints a more complicated picture.

Gonzales Research has polled Marylanders on the death penalty in January 2009, March 2007 and May 2001. Respondents favoring the death penalty have fallen from 62% in 2001 to 57% in 2007 to 53% in 2009. Respondents opposing the death penalty have risen from 33% in 2001 to 37% in 2007 to 41% in 2009. The standard error of the three total samples is 3.5 points, meaning the changes (down 9 points in favor, up 8 points in oppose) are statistically significant. Below are breakdowns by sub-sample (click on the image for a larger view):

The sub-samples have higher standard errors because they have smaller sample sizes. Even so, the data suggests that the principal drivers of shifts in opinion come from changing attitudes among independents (favor down 16, oppose up 14), whites (favor down 11, oppose up 11) and men (favor down 13, oppose up 9). Independents are probably the fastest-growing political group in the state.

Gonzales also asked two questions comparing the death penalty to life without parole in 2009 and 2007. Below are the responses to those questions (click on the image for a larger view):

While the two questions may go to a similar intent, they are not identical. But together, they suggest that Marylanders lean towards life without parole as a superior option to the death penalty by a small-to-significant, and possibly growing, margin.

Maryland residents are changing their minds fast on the death penalty. But does the Maryland Senate hear them?