NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting 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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One Ping

  1. […] Reaper recedes — Just 24 per­cent in check behind geno­cide penal­ty, Seat­tle PI, Jul 12, 2018; NPI check finds 69% of Wash­ing­to­ni­ans pref­er­ence life in jail alter­na­tives to a geno­cide penal­ty, North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, Jul 12, 2018; Far some-more Wash­ing­to­ni­ans con­flict genocide […]

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