Voters are narrowly divided over Prop. 34, an initiative to do away with the death penalty in California, according to a UC Berkeley/Field Poll survey made public Tuesday, Sept. 25. Those favoring the ballot measure are at 42 percent, those opposed at 45 percent, with 13 percent undecided, the poll reported.
The difference is within the poll’s 4.3 percentage point margin of error.
The initiative calls for the abolition of the death penalty in California and is retroactive for the state’s condemned inmates, whose numbers now stand at 727, the largest such number in the country. If passed, the initiative will replace capital punishment with a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole, and directs $100 million to law enforcement for investigation of murder and rape cases.
The results, Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said in a phone interview, reflect changing attitudes about capital punishment in California. The Field Poll has conducted surveys on the death penalty for more than 50 years.
Changes include an increasing number of voters accepting that a sentence of life in prison without parole means just that, life in prison, rather than eventual release. Voters also are migrating from viewing life in prison without parole as more expensive than the death penalty to an increasing regard that capital punishment is more costly, DiCamillo said.
In 2000, surveyed voters in the Field Poll favored the death penalty over life in prison without parole, 44 percent to 37 percent. In a 2011 poll, 48 percent said they preferred life in prison without parole against 40 percent for the death penalty, even though 68 percent overall said they favored the death penalty.
“I don’t see those as inconsistent answers,” DiCamillo said. “For first-degree murders, most prefer life in prison without parole. But for heinous crimes — put Charlie Manson’s face up there — many voters would say the death penalty should be kept.” Voters have indicated they want prosecutors to have capital punishment as an option, he said.
But Prop. 34 has no such discernments, DiCamillo said. “That is not what this initiative does,” — Proposition 34 is all-or-nothing. “That’s what makes it an interesting election. You have to come to judgment one way or another.”
Riverside County has 74 inmates on death row, the highest per-capita number in the state, 1 for every 30,000, while Los Angeles County, with 226 inmates awaiting execution, is at 1 for every 44,0000. San Bernardino County has 37 condemned inmates listed in state prison figures.
The survey also looked at Prop. 31, a state budget process reform initiative, and found 40 percent of likely voters will turn it down, 21 percent will approve, but a large portion of voters, 39 percent, are undecided.
Today’s surveys were conducted by The Field Poll and the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley for The Press-Enterprise and other California media subscribers. Interviews were conducted with 1,183 California registered voters, including 902 likely to vote in November.
BY RICHARD K. De ATLEY
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