Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Moderate Cultural Majority: Part 1

I'm convinced that there are middle grounds on virtually every important social issue that would be acceptable to all but the most activist partisans of either side of each debate. I've been digging through some polls that give evidence to this conviction and I plan a series of posts on them. After I've surveyed the landscape on several important issues, I'll finish with a post on the significance of a culturally moderate majority.

Americans favor capital punishment by more than two-to-one. According to an October 2008 Gallup poll, not only do 64% favor the death penalty, but 71% believe that it's applied either "about right" or "not enough" (48% said not enough), and 54% believe that it's generally applied fairly (incidentally, that means that about 17% said it was applied unfairly but either supported how often it's used or wanted it used more often, wtf?). Despite moderate decreases in capital punishment furvor since October 2007, these numbers are not a great sign for my moderate majority.

However, a July 2008 Quinnipiac Poll digs a little deeper. Again, 63% support capital punishment, with 55% supporting execution for defendants convicted of child rape. However, the poll asks a better question: for people convicted of murder, do you prefer the death penalty, or life in prison without parole? Here respondents are offered a concrete choice. Support for capital punishment is a rather ephemeral thing - someone who favors it only for serial killers it grouped together with someone who favors it for child molestors, as "supporters." When this trade-off is offered, with the classic case of murder (which is really the relevant question), the death penalty is preferred, but only by 47% to 44%. Less than a majority of Americans can say confidently that murders should be executed. The Gallup and ABC/Washington Post polls have asked this question since 2000, with similar results every year.

So Americans are divided on the essential question of whethere murders should be executed. And that's given that fact that only one side of the debate is willing to make its case in public. Suppose the anti-death penalty movement came back from whereever the hell it went, and refashioned itself the "life in prison without parole" movement. We should not be so sure that the right has a death grip on this issue.

Next in the series: Gay Rights

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