Maryland Death Penalty: Polls and Politics


Advocates of death-penalty repeal in Maryland were reminded again today that they are ahead of public opinion — a new Washington Post poll showed that a majority of the state’s residents favor maintaining capital punishment.  The breakdown shows 60%  in favor of leaving the death penalty on the books, 36% favoring abolition. (Details at http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/polling/majority-supports-death-penalty-maryland-despite/2013/02/26/f87c059c-8048-11e2-a671-0307392de8de_page.html)

The new numbers come as the State Senate is about to vote on Governor Martin O’Malley’s bill to repeal the death penalty.  Initial headcounts showed the Governor having the votes this time, after failures in 2007 and 2009.  He has stronger support in the House.

Whether this new poll could affect Senate action is unclear.  The Post numbers are consistent with its polling results on the issue over the past several years, so in that sense it’s not big news. But digging into the numbers reveals a degree of complexity, and possible soft spots, in the top numbers: 61% of the poll’s respondents did not believe the death penalty was a deterrent to murder, and only 43% said capital punishment has been applied fairly in the state.

Other polling has showed support for capital punishment in the state to be on the wane.  The respected Gonzalez Research poll, which issued its latest results last month, indicates that while support is strong, opposition to the death penalty has increased over the past two years, from 36% in 2011 to 44% in 2013.  The supporters won out this year, with 49% in favor — but that represented a decline from 56% two years ago.  (Details at http://www.wbaltv.com/blob/view/-/18239006/data/2/-/66txfez/-/1-23-2012-Gonzales-poll.pdf)

The polling data overall could be a harbinger of the future, even if the death penalty is repealed in this session of the General Assembly.  Supporters are promising a campaign to force a referendum — and given the ease with which gay marriage and casino gambling made last year’s Maryland ballot, an internet push for enough signatures is a distinct possibility   The death penalty may face the ultimate public poll at the ballot box in 2014.

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