Candidates - are you ready to explain where you stand on the death penalty

Who would have thought a year ago that the death penalty would be taking such a prominent role in the elections this year. But that's what's happening.

Don't get me wrong; Abortion, economic development, rural development, wind energy, etc., are all still there. But this topic once considered a long dormant or sub-issue is now in the forefront of people's minds. It could very possibly be a issue that serves as a wedge or a magnet issue for some voters this year.

So what are people thinking? What are the attitudes? I haven't located any recent studies that have targeted specific South Dakota opinions outside of the vapid, unscientific knee-jerk polling that many newspaper websites have posted. But the national data is interesting.

Some of the newspaper coverage we're seeing on the issue tries to balance their opinion between pro- and anti- death penalty sentiments, and that could lead candidates to wonder. But the cold hard fact is that there's little disparity of opinion whether or not we should use the death penalty.

What are a couple of national polls saying?

ABC News/Washington Post Poll. June 22-25, 2006:
"Do you favor or oppose the death penalty for persons convicted of murder?"

Favor Oppose Unsure
6/22-25/06 65 32 3
And the Gallup organization weighed in recently as well back in May:
"Are you in favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder?"

Favor Oppose Unsure
5/5-7/06 65 28 7

(I read these here) These polls aren't exactly ambiguous on whether or not people favor it.

The most divided opinion comes into play when people are asked what punishment they prefer. That tracking of public opinion comes into play with about a 50/50 division. ABC News/Washington post shows opinion leaning more towards death in recent years, Gallup shows it waning, but never by any significant amounts when you take the margin of error into consideration.

The one of most interesting breakdowns I came across was from Gallup's 2004 poll which I found here.

Party-wise, look at the incredible overwhelming support of the death penalty by Republicans: over 4.7 to 1 in favor of the death penalty (at least back in 2004). Dems polled at 1.6 to 1, and Independents are roughly 2.2 to one. In such a strongly Republican state as South Dakota, Democrats may be politicizing this issue to their detriment.

On an intra-party basis, Democrats might not lose that much with opposition to the death penalty, but in an open field with Independents and especially Republicans, it becomes a troubling issue for them.

Among Republicans, if your death penalty support is not clear, that could cause you grief. In a primary, if it's a bellwether topic at the time, it could easily cost you the primary. In a general election? Prepare for more than serious headaches there as well.

Ignoring party and just looking at ideology, (i.e., conservatives versus liberals) the numbers don't move much off of what you'd expect from Republican versus Democrat.

Taking a last glance at breakdowns, here's one thing that struck me as interesting - Death penalty support by religion:

Catholics as a group really don't differ that much from Protestants on the death penalty issue. Granted, this poll was taken before the American Conference of Bishops took a stance against the use of the Death Penalty, but I'm doubtful that it's going to cause an instant attitude shift.

As Catholics align themselves more and more with the Republican party, it could soften the stance slightly. But dropping Republican ratio of support for the death penalty from 4.7 to 1 down to 4.2 to 1 isn't going to cause a major shift in reality.

Among Republicans, the reality is that your base unequivocally supports the death penalty. And when it comes to general election voters, a serious majority does as well.

Getting ready to campaign this fall in South Dakota? Get your death penalty position statements ready. You're going to need them.

And in case you need a hint, you can look at these statistics if you aren't clear on where your voting public stands.


Anonymous said…
Governor Rounds is sure good at finding flaws in our State's Laws when its to his political advantage. (abortion veto and death penalty)

Wish he would put some of that skill to use in other areas.

Maybe there is a job for him in the AG's office when he loses his reelection campaign.
Anonymous said…
You Dems---like Gov. Rounds will lose the election. Get real--with Billion against him there is hardly even a contest.
Anonymous said…
There is at minimum a Billion reason not to vote for the democrat candidate for Governor. "What you talkin' about Willis" is a more attractive option than him. He's got a well-defined position on the issues and won't claim "ambivalence" to avoid answering the tough questions.
Nicholas Nemec said…
What the events of the last week have really done is point out Mike Rounds' lack of leadership.

This procedure has been state law since the 1980s, there have been people on death row in this state since the mid 1990's, Mike Rounds has been Governor for four years. Didn't he know that this day was coming? Doesn't the state have lawyers on staff to read the laws? Why didn't Mike Rounds recommend changes of the law in any of the previous four sessions of the legislature while he has been Governor?

This issue has highlighted all those gualities Rounds claims in his larger than life billboards (leadership, vision, etc) and shown that he doesn't pocess them.

Either that or he really was playing chicken with a condemned man and playing politics with a very serious issue.

Had he commuted the sentence as an act of faith and his conscience I would be able to accept that. Instead at the last hour he spots a loophole that he should have spotted and closed years ago.

Are you really that dumb Mike? Did your hair get messed up squeezing through that loophole?
Anonymous said…
NN-sometimes billboards are enough. You've run for office, you should know this. It worked in 02, it will work in 06. The Rounds braintrust has us figured out, we are simple creatures. Like stingray's.
Anonymous said…
"Had he commuted the sentence as an act of faith and his conscience I would be able to accept that."
Then you are a better person than most, because the same people who are offended with the involvement of "faith" and "religion" in the HB1215 debate are the same ones who would have jumped on Rounds if his faith had been the reason for stopping the execution. So, d*** if he did and d*** if he didn't with that crowd. By the way, in my opinion, he should have let it happen. I think he was pandering, and that makes me angry.
Nicholas Nemec said…
Anon 5:27, as a Roman Catholic I do understand the enormous burden that faith can put on your decisions. That is why I would accept a commutation based on an act of faith and conscience by the Governor as an explaination easier than I could accept the line of BS given.

Who do you think he was pandering to?

Anon 4:52, unfortunately sometimes signs are all that is needed. Lots of signs=better name ID=more votes.
Anonymous said…
WOW! One thing I find absolutely fascinating about that last group of charts......the people MOST likely to OPPOSE the death penalty are people with NO religious affiliation????

How can this be?

And why are Christians and Catholics so gung-ho about the death penalty. Would Jesus really come out in favor of capital punishment if he were preaching today?

It seems that the issue is being sold as "execution of a murderer is the good, Christian thing to do"....witness, for example, every time the Lawrence Co. State's Atty talks about the Page execution, he invokes Dottie Poage's deep religious convictions and her support of killing her son's murderer as payback/justice.


Who Would Jesus Execute?
Anonymous said…
Jesus would kill 'em all
and let God sort them out

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