NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

NPI poll finds 69% of Washingtonians favor life in prison alternatives to the death penalty

An overwhelming majority of Washingtonians would rather send convicted murderers to prison for life than execute them, a recent poll commissioned by the Northwest Progressive Institute has found.

A total of 69% of respondents surveyed said they preferred one of three life in prison alternatives to just 24% who said they preferred the death penalty.

8% said they were not sure.

This significant finding suggests that a consensus is building among the people of Washington State for a sorely needed human rights and criminal justice reform. Washingtonians don’t need to be convinced that replacing the death penalty with life in prison alternatives makes sense… it’s what they already believe.

Here is the question we asked and the responses we received:


Of the following list of choices, which punishment do you prefer for people convicted of murder: life in prison with NO possibility of parole, life in prison with NO possibility of parole and a requirement to work in prison and pay restitution to the victims, life in prison with a possibility of parole after at least forty years, or the death penalty?


  • Prefer Life In Prison… (69% total)
    • … With No Possibility Of Parole: 10%
    • … With No Possibility Of Parole And A Requirement To Work in Prison And Pay Restitution To The Victims: 46%
    • … With A Possibility Of Parole After At Least Forty Years: 13%
  • Prefer The Death Penalty: 24%
  • Not Sure: 8%

Our survey of six hundred and seventy-five likely 2018 Washington State voters was in the field May 22nd-23rd, 2018. The survey used a blended methodology with automated phone calls to landlines and online interviews of cell phone only respondents. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling for NPI, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.8% at the 95% confidence level.

What we found most striking about the responses were that not a single subsample within the survey favored the death penalty… not even Donald Trump voters.

(Trump voters favor life in prison by the slimmest of margins: 48% of them picked one of the three alternatives, while 46% want to keep the death penalty.)

What this tells us is that there is broad agreement across the ideological spectrum for getting rid of the practice of putting convicted murders to death.

82% of those identifying as Democrats in our poll selected one of the life in prison alternatives, joined by 63% of those identifying as independents and supporters of a minor party, plus 54% of those identifying as Republicans.

There are ample reasons to oppose the death penalty.

It doesn’t deter crime, it’s actually cheaper to incarcerate murderers than it is to execute them, and it’s a practice that has been ended in every other developed country except for the United States… not to mention many developing countries.

But perhaps the best reason of all to abolish the death penalty is that it is discriminatory and unjust. Our courts are simply not infallible. Prosecutors make mistakes. Juries make mistakes. Judges make mistakes. A person who is innocent can be accused, tried, and executed for a murder they did not commit.

Since we cannot eliminate the possibility of error from our judicial system, we must eliminate the possibility that an innocent person will be put to death by getting rid of the death penalty once and for all — both here in Washington and elsewhere.

At NPI, we believe that all people have a right to live. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the ideals that this country was founded on, with life being the first. Capital punishment is at odds with those values. It needs to be abolished.

A few months ago, the Washington State Senate adopted legislation to do just that. Twenty-one Democratic senators and five Republican senators came together in a striking demonstration of bipartisan unity to pass Senate Bill 6052.

Although the bill received a hearing and a “do pass” recommendation from the House Judiciary Committee, it did not receive a vote on the House floor.

2019 can and must be the year that legislation to abolish the death penalty in Washington State gets all the way to Governor Inslee’s desk.

Last year, when Attorney General Bob Ferguson and former Attorney General Rob McKenna joined forces to urge the Legislature to end capital punishment, The Seattle Times’ Joseph O’Sullivan reached out to well known local pollster Stuart Elway for his thoughts on where Washingtonians stood on the issue.

Elway told O’Sullivan that a majority of voters here in Washington State may now oppose the death penalty. As O’Sullivan related in his article:

“I think it’s one of those things where the people who are for it, are for the death penalty, are pretty strong and vocal, but I don’t think they’re in the majority,” Elway said. “So it’s sort of intensity on one side, versus numbers on the other side.”

Our survey finding confirms Elway’s guess. What’s noteworthy, though, is that the majority in favor of life in prison alternatives is so huge. 69% is more than two-thirds. It’s unusual for this many people to be in agreement on issue that is widely considered to be so divisive. It turns out we’re not as divided as we might think.

And that’s some encouraging news considering the times we live in.

Anyone who is skeptical of this finding is welcome to take a look at the body of public opinion research that shows support for the death penalty falling across the country. Gallup has found declining enthusiasm for the practice of putting people to death for murder in recent years; so has Pew Research.

Pew released fresh numbers last month that weren’t as good as its 2016 numbers. However, the new 2018 numbers are not worse than Gallup’s 2017 numbers.

In other words, Pew didn’t find a higher level of support for the death penalty this year than Gallup did last year, when Gallup reported that Americans’ support for the death penalty has dipped to a level not seen in forty-five years.

Both pollsters report that nationwide support for the death penalty is below the levels seen in the 1990s and early 2000s. Our polling suggests that Washington is very much in the vanguard of a shift of public opinion that favors abolition.

Four states have succeeded in abolishing the death penalty during the past decade: Delaware (2016), Maryland (2013), Connecticut (2012), and New Mexico (2009). A total of nineteen states no longer have the death penalty.

With a successful vote in next year’s Legislature to end the practice of executing people, Washington could be the twentieth. Let’s make it happen.

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