DENVER– Coloradans support the death penalty by wide margins, according to a poll released today by Quinnipiac University (pdf). Pollsters tied the strong views held on capital punishment to the slim margins Governor John Hickenlooper notched against three potential Republican rivals in the same poll.
Nearly 70 percent of Centennial State respondents told Qunnipiac they would like to retain capital punishment as an option for prosecutors, even though only roughly 50 percent of the voters surveyed believe the death penalty is applied fairly in the state and even though 57 percent say they don’t believe it prevents crime.
Momentum in the U.S. has generally been moving away from capital punishment in recent years. Officials have argued against it as DNA evidence has exonerated defendants who have landed on death row and as repeat studies show death sentences are more frequently meted out in cases featuring poor and ethnic minority defendants.
Colorado Democratic Governor Hickenlooper has drawn fire in the weeks since he granted death row convicted murderer Nathan Dunlap a reprieve. Dunlap gunned down four people in Aurora in 1993. There was never any question about his innocence. Hickenlooper said the reprieve was less about Dunlap than about the fact that the death penalty is unevenly applied in Colorado.
“Our system of capital punishment is imperfect and inherently inequitable,” he said. “Such a level of punishment really does demand perfection.”
The three men currently on the state’s death row all come from Arapahoe County. They are all African American.
More than 70 percent of Republicans but less than 50 percent of Democrats surveyed said they support capital punishment.
Hickenlooper polled between one and six points ahead of each of the three Republican candidates cited in the poll. The relative closeness of each of the match-ups likely speaks to the fact that, a year and a half from Election Day, few Coloradans are thinking about the governor’s race.
Hickenlooper topped former U.S. Representative and anti-illegal-immigration crusader Tom Tancredo 42 percent to 41 percent. But 20 percent of Latinos polled said that, at this point, they didn’t have a preference or were unfamiliar with the candidates. That would surely change if Tancredo stays in the race.
Hickenlooper bested Secretary of Sate Scott Gessler 42 percent to 40 percent, but lots of voters are unfamiliar with Gessler and he polled even worse among Latinos than did Tancredo. Among Latinos, Hickenlooper ran ahead of Tancredo 55 percent to 19 percent and ahead of Gessler 59 percent to 19 percent.
Hickenlooper garnered 43 percent support to rural-conservative state Senator Greg Brophy’s 37 percent. Brophy has not declared his candidacy and enjoys little name recognition. More than 85 percent of voters polled couldn’t identify him well enough to have an opinion.
Pollster conducted interviews in person and via land line and mobile phones last week. They surveyed 1,065 registered voters and reported a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points. Quinnipiac generally polls on the east coast. This is its first-ever Colorado poll. A spokesman said no one commissioned the poll and that Colorado was added to its list of states to survey this year along with Iowa.
Survey details available at the Quinnipiac website.