Poll: Close divide on death penalty

The attitudes of voters. Illustration by Niroworld, via Shutterstock.

The final pre-election Field-IGS Poll, conducted jointly by The Field Poll and UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, assessed likely voter preferences one week before the election on ten of the most contentious propositions on the statewide ballot. The results show majorities of voters are inclined to vote Yes on seven of the ten, while voters are divided on three others, with Yes side support hovering close to 50%.

Details of the full survey and a description of the methodology can be found here.

Among the initiatives with a significant lead is Proposition 64, the marijuana legalization initiative, which would make it legal for adults age 21 or older to use the drug and would impose state taxes on its sale. In the current poll, 57% of likely voters are intending to vote Yes, while 40% are inclined to vote No. In addition to Prop. 64, the other ballot measures that were leading in the poll and the percentage of Yes side support for each are as follows:

  • Proposition 52, Medi-Cal Hospital Fee Program (66%)
  • Proposition 55, Tax Extension to Fund Education and Healthcare (59%)
  • Proposition 56, Cigarette Tax (55%)
  • Proposition 57, Criminal Sentences. Parole (64%)
  • Proposition 58, English Proficiency. Multilingual Education (68%)
  • Proposition 63, Firearms. Ammunition Sales (59%)

Among the initiatives where voting preferences are closely divided are two competing ballot measures aimed at changing the state’s death penalty law. Each has with very different aims.

The first, Proposition 62, calls for repealing the death penalty altogether and replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The other, Proposition 66, attempts to change procedures relating to court challenges in death penalty cases and is intended to speed up implementation of death sentences.

In the election’s final week, likely voter support for each measure was hovering near 50%, with 51% supporting Prop. 62 and 48% backing Prop. 66. Since they are competing initiatives on the same topic, if both should receive a majority of the vote, the initiative receiving the most votes would prevail.

A third ballot initiative closely dividing voters in the final poll is the prescription drug purchasing initiative, Proposition 61. The current poll finds voters equally divided, with 47% on the Yes side and 47% on the No side. However, when compared to a Field-IGS Poll completed last month, Yes side support has declined slightly, and nearly all of those previously undecided have moved to the No side.

Comparing support and opposition to the two death penalty initiatives across voter subgroups
The battle lines between those supporting or opposing Prop. 62 to repeal the death penalty are very clearly drawn. The constituencies most inclined to vote Yes on Prop. 62 to repeal the death penalty are Democrats, liberals, those under age 40, residents of the San Francisco Bay Area, voters affiliated with a non-Christian religion or who have no religious preference, and those with a postgraduate education. The subgroups most likely to be opposed to its passage are Republicans, conservatives, Protestants, voters age 65 or older, those living in the state’s inland counties, and voters who have not graduated from college. The partisan, ideological and demographic differences in voter preferences on Prop. 66 are not as distinct. This may indicate greater confusion about the intent of Prop. 66 among some voters than there is on Prop. 62.

Some voters say they’ll be voting Yes on both death penalty ballot measures
Nearly a quarter of likely voters in the poll (23%) said they were intending to vote Yes on both measures, even though they have opposite aims. This may partially be due to confusion about the intent of Prop. 66, or simply that some voters want to change the status quo of how the state now handles death penalty cases, regardless of how it’s done. Even so, the voter subgroups most inclined to be voting Yes on both initiatives are voting constituencies who tend to support the death penalty’s repeal – Democrats, voters under age 40, and liberals. Thus, should these voters follow through and vote yes not only on Prop. 62, but also on Prop. 66, they would in effect be reducing the chances of repealing the death penalty, since if Prop. 66 were to receive more votes, its provisions would supersede those of Prop. 62.

Vote on Prop. 61, Prescription Drug Purchases, is highly partisan and varies across subgroups
Voters were evenly divided, 47% to 47%, on Prop. 61, the Prescription Drug Purchases initiative, one week before the election. Preferences divide sharply along party and ideological grounds, with Democrats and liberals voting Yes by roughly two-to-one margins, and Republicans and conservatives opposed nearly three to one.

There are also differences in voting preferences along generational and ethnic lines. For example, while a 56% of voters under age 40 are voting Yes, 59% of seniors age 65 or older are voting No. And, while a majority of the state’s Latinos and African Americans are on the Yes side, white nonHispanics are narrowly opposed.

There are also differences by educational attainment and region. Voters who have not completed college are lining up on the No side, while a majority of voters with a postgraduate education are voting Yes. Support for Prop. 61 is strongly among voters in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, while voters in the Central Valley are more likely to be voting No.

Comparing voter preferences on marijuana legalization ballot propositions now vs. 2010
There have been two previous attempts to legalize the sale of marijuana for recreational use in California, and both were defeated at the polls. The first was soundly rejected 66.5% to 35.5% by voters in November 1972. The second, six years ago, was a much closer affair. That measure, Proposition 19 on the November 2010 ballot, was defeated by just seven points, 53.5% to 46.5%. In that year, the final pre-election Field Poll, completed one week before the election, also showed the measure trailing by seven points.

A comparison of the supporters and opponents from that 2010 Field Poll to current voter preferences on Prop. 64 reveals a number of sizeable shifts in voting preferences over the past six years. For example, six years ago voters age 40-49 opposed Prop. 19. Now, they are lining up in support of Prop. 64 more than two to one.

Similarly, while a 55% majority of Latino voters opposed Prop. 19 in 2010, Latinos are now backing Prop. 64 59% to 37%. In addition, while those with no more than a high school education opposed Prop. 19 more than two to one, they are now narrowly supportive of Prop. 64. Regional shifts in voting preference are also evident. Six years ago voters living in the state’s inland counties opposed Prop. 19 by more than twenty points.

Today, they are about evenly divided on Prop. 64. In addition, coastal voters, who live in counties that touch the Pacific Ocean or San Francisco Bay, are also much more strongly supportive of Prop. 64 this year than they were in 2010. The current poll finds that the strongest voting bloc in favor of legalizing marijuana are voters who say that they themselves have used marijuana in the past year. Among these voters, 95% are voting Yes on Prop. 64.

Ed’s Note: The findings in this report come from a survey of California voters conducted jointly by The Field Poll and the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. The survey was completed online by YouGov October 25-31, 2016 in English and Spanish.

The poll was conducted among an overall sample of 1,498 Californians considered likely to vote in the November 2016 general election, but was divided into three matching subsamples when measuring voter preferences about the state ballot propositions. Each proposition was included on two of the three matching subsamples, yielding sample sizes of either 998 or 999 likely voters for each.

YouGov administered the survey among a sample of the California registered voters who were included as part of its online panel of over 1.5 million U.S. residents. Eligible panel members were asked to participate in the poll through an invitation email containing a link to the survey.

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