Ballot measure to end death penalty faces uphill battle, poll finds


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A new poll has found that a November ballot measure to replace the death penalty with life without possibility of parole faces an uphill battle with California voters. The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times survey found that Proposition 34, which would commute the sentences of California’s more than 725 death row inmates to life with no parole, was trailing 51% to 38%.

But the survey also showed the gap became a statistical dead heat once respondents were told the measure would require convicted killers to work while in prison, direct their earnings to their victims and earmark $100 million for police to solve murders and rapes.


Proposition 34 would make life without parole California’s toughest criminal punishment. Proponents have argued it would save hundreds of millions of dollars by eliminating complex death penalty trials, reducing appeals and eliminating single cells on death row. The nonpartisan legislative analyst’s office has said the measure could save the state as much as $130 million annually, an amount supporters of capital punishment dispute.

But the survey found that voters were not swayed by projected savings. Opponents of the measure outnumbered supporters by the same margin—46% to 44%--even after they learned that abolishing the death penalty might substantially reduce state spending.

Pollsters said the findings did not bode well for Proposition 34 and demonstrated that views about the death penalty remain entrenched.

Natasha Minsker, campaign manager for Proposition 34, said she remained optimistic. She noted that the election was weeks away and the survey found voters could be swayed when given more information.

Peter DeMarco, a strategist for the opposition, said Californians have long supported the death penalty, and he predicted the measure would be defeated.

The poll was conducted for the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and The Times by two firms: the Democratic company Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Resarch and the Republican firm American Viewpoint.


More than 1,500 registered California voters participated in the survey from Sept. 17-23. The margin of error is 2.9 percentage points.


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--Maura Dolan