Arkansas voters remain firmly committed to the death penalty despite an upcoming quick execution schedule, advances made in DNA testing, and a national trend towards ending the practice.
A new Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College survey suggests more than 2-to-1 support for the death penalty versus life without parole.
Q: Do you support the death penalty, or should the state of Arkansas make life without parole the maximum prison sentence for capital offenses?
61% Support death penalty
29% Life without parole
10% Don’t Know
When asked if death penalty executions should be carried out by lethal injection or by other methods, lethal injection remain the top preference.
Q: Arkansas currently utilizes lethal injection as the method for carrying out executions. Do you favor the continued use of lethal injection or should the state explore alternative methods for carrying out state executions, such as the electric chair, firing squads, or public hangings?
49% Continue Lethal Injection
27% Explore Alternatives
18% Opposed to the death penalty altogether
6% Don’t Know
Among those supporting alternatives, the subset of voters prefers public hangings as the second choice, even though the practice is not allowed in Arkansas.
Q: Which alternative to lethal injection do you support the most? (Only asked of the 27% of respondents to “Explore Alternatives”.)
28% Electric Chair
34% Firing Squad
38% Public Hangings
Arkansans are also unfazed by the upcoming rapid execution schedule which involves seven executions over an 11-day period. At the time the poll was conducted, eight inmates were scheduled for execution in the 11-day time span.
Q: This month Arkansas will execute 8 convicted prisoners over a span of 11 days driven by the expiration date of one of the drugs used for lethal injections. Supporters argue the families of the victims need closure, while opponents argue that the state is conducting too many executions too quickly. Do you support or oppose carrying out these 8 executions over an 11 day period, or does the compressed time frame make no difference to you?
17% No difference
6% Don’t Know
The TB&P-Hendrix Poll also found that DNA testing, which has cleared death row inmates – some before and some after their executions, has largely made attitudes in favor of the death penalty more certain or unchanged.
Q: Have advances in DNA testing in recent years made you more supportive, or less supportive of the use of the death penalty or has it not changed your views?
41% More Supportive
17% Less Supportive
40% No change in views
2% Don’t Know
Dr. Jay Barth, professor of political science at Hendrix College, helped craft and analyze the latest poll. He offered this analysis of the poll results:
As Arkansas’s move to carry out eight (and, following a federal court ruling in recent days, seven) executions via lethal injection moves toward reality at the end of the month, Arkansas is gaining increasing national and international attention as state officials race to beat the expiration deadline for a drug used in the state’s lethal injection formula.
We asked a series of questions about Arkansans’ opinions regarding the death penalty, generally, and this historic number of executions in particular. Arkansans’ unshakeable commitment to the death penalty is shown by the survey results. Most generally, Arkansans solidly support the application of the death penalty with over six in ten respondents favoring the death penalty while fewer than three in ten support life without parole for those convicted of capital offenses.
Although all age groups are supportive of the death penalty, the youngest Arkansans (those under 30) are the group most likely to be undecided on the issue.
While white Arkansans are overwhelmingly supportive of the death penalty (just under 2/3rd support), African-Americans are evenly split on it. Still, compared to African-Americans nationally, this is relatively strong support (nationally, majorities of African-Americans oppose the imposition of the death penalty, according to Gallup).
While a slight majority favor life in prison without parole, Arkansas’s Democrats are also more supportive of the death penalty than are Democrats nationally. A majority of Arkansas’s Republicans and independents favor the death penalty, but they do so more emphatically than GOP adherents and independents nationally. Therefore, the patterns are similar to national patterns, but Arkansans simply show a cultural predisposition to the death penalty that shows itself across the table.
The recent advances in science that have shown some convicted of the death penalty to be innocent has not undermined Arkansans support for the ultimate criminal penalty. Across the board, Arkansans say that their positions on the death penalty have either stayed the same or hardened in recent years. Although there is some variance between those who have become more supportive or stayed the same in their support of death, little variation across political or demographic groups is shown on those who go so far as to say their support for the death penalty has lessened.
Arkansans are also generally supportive of death by lethal injection, the method employed by the state of Arkansas for a quarter century. Pluralities of all groups of Arkansans support that method of execution despite doubts that have been raised about it because of botched executions in other states. We followed up with a question of those who showed a willingness to shift away from lethal injection. A plurality of this group voiced a desire to look at public hangings as an alternative. On this issue, however, a massive gender gap shows itself. Men are particularly drawn to the use of public hanging while women are distinctly averse to it. Also, women who support the death penalty strongly favor lethal injection as the best method for carrying out the death penalty.
Finally, we focused on the extraordinary number of executions planned by the state of Arkansas at the end of the April. At the time of our survey, eight executions were planned. At the time of this writing, seven of those executions remain on track (the eighth has been delayed by federal District Judge Price Marshall because of a favorable clemency recommendation by the State Parole Board).
Just at one in four Arkansans are troubled by this aggressive stance while a strong majority of Arkansans either favor this move by the state to ensure the executions are carried out before the drug expiration (51%) or say it makes no difference (17%). While slight majorities of African-Americans and Democrats oppose the mass executions, the most noticeable variance across social groups is shown between men and women. A nearly 20 point gender gap (61% for men versus 42% for women) is shown on support for the late-April series of executions.
All told, this pattern of survey responses on the death penalty shows the breadth and depth of Arkansans support for death as an appropriate punishment in capital cases. While national survey research shows some erosion of support for the death penalty, all signs are that the death penalty will remain in favor in Arkansas for the foreseeable future.
This survey was conducted on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. The poll, which has a margin of error of +/-4.2%, was completed using IVR survey technology among 550 Arkansas frequent voters statewide.
All media outlets are welcome to reprint, reproduce, or rebroadcast information from this poll with proper attribution to Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College.