Continuing a trend that began in 1989, new polling data indicates Kentuckians still prefer lengthy prison terms, including life without parole, as the punishment for murders qualifying for the death penalty. This poll, conducted by the University of Kentucky Survey Research Center, interviewed 684 Kentuckians and has an error rate of ±3.8 percent. It is a sophisticated, professional poll that sought to determine an accurate picture of Kentuckians attitude about the death penalty as it is actually used in Kentucky. It is not another standard poll that questions respondents about an abstract death penalty and whether or not the respondent supports or opposes. It is a poll completely unlike the inaccurate and unprofessional polls legislators conduct all the time with their constituents.
When interviewers asked Kentuckians which of the five possible sentences available under Kentucky law they preferred in cases of “first-degree murder,” 57.8 percent chose either life without parole or another type of prison term. Only 42.2 percent chose the death penalty. (Kentucky law does not call crimes eligible for the death penalty “first-degree murder,” but the actual polling question did use that term.)
Dr. Gennaro Vito, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Louisville, has followed polling data about the death penalty for many years and has provided an analysis which shows that over time Kentuckians’ attitudes about the death penalty have been consistent for years.
A comparison of death penalty attitudes over a 27-year period of polling reveals that Kentuckians support long term sentences over capital punishment. Over the five polls, the average level of death penalty support was 34.4% while the average level for a long term sentence was 51.8%.
These five survey results over 27 years clearly reveal that the majority of Kentuckians favor a long term sentence over the death penalty for convicted murderers. Policy and decision makers at all levels of government, especially legislators and criminal justice operatives, should take note of the consistency of these findings as the people of Kentucky are expressing their opinions clearly.
The Survey Research Institute of the Urban Studies Institute at the University of Louisville conducted the 1989, 1997 and 1999 surveys. In October of 1989, data were collected from a probability sample of 811 Kentucky households (margin of error = + 2.5%). The 1997 survey was conducted in July and had an N of 709 (margin of error = + 2.5%). The 1999 had an N of 909 (margin of error = + 4.8%). The 2006 survey was conducted by the University of Kentucky and had an N of 836 (margin of error = + 3.3%). The 2016 was conducted by the University of Kentucky and had an N of 684 (margin of error = + 3.8%).
Answers to other questions revealed that an overwhelming majority, 72.4 percent, of Kentuckians would support the governor if he declares a moratorium on its use until the broken system is fixed; 68 percent support life without parole over the death penalty if it can be shown to cost more than life without parole; 71.6 percent agree that there is a risk of executing the innocent; and 64 percent of all respondents support replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole to end the long wait for punishment inflicted on victims’ family members when a death sentence is handed down.
Click here to read the press release about the poll. And click here to see the exact questions asked of Kentuckians in the areas mentioned above.
As Dr. Vito says “the people of Kentucky are expressing their opinions clearly.” It is time to abolish the death penalty in Kentucky.
Graphic: created by KCADP using data provided by the University of Kentucky Survey Research Center