Is Orange County pro-death penalty?

I don't know how many of you read the News of Orange. I drop into their web site about once a week, which how often it's updated. They have reader polls to which I am strangely addicted. If they are at all accurate, then it certainly validates what folks say about the northern part of the county being way more convervative than Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

For example, this week's questions is "Do you favor the death penalty?" and the response so far is pretty much YES:
Yes 51.9%
Sometimes 11.5%
No 32.7%
Unsure 3.8%

Total Votes: 52

Do you think this is an accurate reflection of the county? If not, perhaps you should take the poll.


Total votes: 61


I think part of this is how you ask the question. That question is certain to get all leaners to vote yes. If you asked:

"Do you support the death penalty in all murder cases?"


"Do you support the death penalth, even though 7% of those sentenced to death are eventually found innocent?"

Then, I think you get a different outcome.

I'm no statistician, but I believe that a sample of 52 (now 62) out of a population of over 100,000 is not particularly meaningful, especially when it is a self-selected sample drawn from a pool of readers of a particular newspaper.

It's not really the number that matters so much as the sample. This is self-selected (by just clicking on a link), so it's not really accurate at all. It needs to be random. That said, as a local boy I do think that the results are about right for us up in the county.

Also, Robert's phrasing would introduce bias into the question, skewing the results.

And for the record I know of no case in America since reinstating the death penalty where someone was executed and later proved innocent. They all still have those guilty verdicts without being turned over. Just food for thought...

Interesting poll though.

Chris, there is bias in it no matter how you ask the question. I prefer my bias in the open.

And I'm pretty sure there have been cases of people proved innocent after being executed, but I don't have the cases handy. Anyway I didn't intend this thread to be about the death penalty, but about local opinions on it... which appear to be changing. ;-)

The current results are:
Yes 43.5%
Sometimes 13.0%
No 40.6%
Unsure 2.9%

Total Votes: 69

The current results are:
Yes 41.1%
Sometimes 13.7%
No 42.5%
Unsure 2.7%

Total Votes: 73

As a point of clarification, the poll on the website not only appears on the News of Orange website but also on those of the Mebane Enterprise (Alamance County) and the Caswell Messenger (Caswell County), our sister newspapers. Certainly, this poll is more for entertainment and to spark discussion and should in no way be taken as anything approaching the rhelms of science.

Current results:
Yes 40.5%
Sometimes 13.5%
No 43.2%
Unsure 2.7%

Total Votes: 74

Webpolls are so prone to bias that I don't think it's really worth discussing:

It's not a random sample, the sampling pool is too small and therefore statistically insignificant. In fact it's even too small to calculate a margin of error.

john! It's for fun!

I love the "sometimes" option on this poll. I hope that even those who support the death penalty would only support it sometimes. Does a yes vote mean the voter supports a death penalty for all crimes committed? Or maybe that there has never been a death penalty verdict that the voter does not agree with (which would take a LOT of research).

Chris Coulter wrote: "I know of no case in America since reinstating the death penalty where someone was executed and later proved innocent."

This is a favorite right-wing blogomyth.

First, it would be unusual indeed for someone to be "proved innocent" because our judicial system does not work in that way. A defendant is proven guilty (or not). Folks on death row are sometimes exonerated by subsequent evidence and when this situation arises the defendant might be released, but s/he wouldn't be "proved innocent" in a legal sense. Even if someone were to be given a new trial and fail to be convicted at the new trial, then we would say that that person was "found not guilty" (as opposed to "proved innocent").

Second, in most states (all?) dead people don't get a new trial no matter what evidence is found, so how would it ever be adjudicated as to whether a person who was executed was in fact "not guilty"? It wouldn't. And so your prophesy is self-fulfilling.

Third, there is some fairly strong evidence that quite a few people have been executed for crimes that they did not commit (since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970's). The following people have been executed for crimes they appear not to have committed (executing state follows the person's name):

Brian K. Baldwin - Alabama
Cornelius Singleton - Alabama
Freddie Lee Wright - Alabama
Thomas M. Thompson - California
James Adams - Florida
Willie Jasper Darden, Jr. - Florida
Jesse J. Tafero - Florida
Girvies Davis - Illinois
Larry Griffin - Missouri
Roy Michael Roberts - Missouri
Odell Barnes, Jr. - Texas
Robert Nelson Drew - Texas
Gary Graham - Texas
Richard Wayne Jones - Texas
Frank Basil McFarland - Texas
Roger Keith Coleman - Virginia

See for more information about these 16 cases.

None of this is to say that there are easy answers in murder cases. And clearly our hearts and minds should be with the victims and their families, but convicting the wrong person only compounds the heartache.

Right, fun...

Actually WRAL did a similar poll last week:

"What's your opinion of the death penalty?"

10,000 polled; 65% said "I support it"

But the kicker is the disclaimer:

"Please keep in mind that our polls are for entertainment and are not conducted in a scientific fashion."

Ahh the death penalty - that's entertainment!

Oh, man, "Chris Coulter"?

Cameron's m'bud and all, but he may(or) have just gotten served.

Chris, you're not punny.

Mark, show me a case where you have something like DNA evidence disproving it. You can't tell me that out of 1000 cases there's no families who've pursued it after the execution.

Also, as to your second point, you seem to be unfamiliar with the concept of appellate courts and the idea of mistrails or new evidence. But perhaps I'm wrong, it is known to happen every blue moon or so.

And to my predecessor, Oooooh! Man! That burns! You got some cortezone? (sorry, inside joke)

Cameron, you're kidding, right? He's a lawyer.

These polls are utterly meaningless---Unless of course, one considers it revelatory that a poll of NRA members is likely to tilt toward skepticism of gun-control measures. In order to produce a result that passes the laugh test, one must use random sampling, an active contact medium and control for demographics of the targeted population. Then, construct an tabulation algorythm controlling for known error factors (e.g: 'non-response' bias).


Gun control means hitting your target, right??

Fun discussion. As a person who did survey research for 20 years, I find myself laughing at polls more often than not. Both in terms of their execution . . . but also in the perverse way they can set agendas.

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Ah, good point Coletta. I humbly retract my previous speculations.

But we digress. To answer the question posed in the thread, I do think that most northern county residents are pro-capital punishment.

I wonder if it's part of a trend across the whole South that is more accepting of capital punishment. What's more, Southerners are more likely to say that it's ok to kill in self-defense, in defense of one's family, and in defense of one's home. Maybe it has something to do with the culture of honor that is still a hallmark of traditional Southern society. But then again, we don't see that many duels...

Only because it's illegal, my friend.

Only because it's illegal.

Well, my dad is a defense attorney in capital cases, so I'm gonna go with a "don't support the death penalty" for my pick... I tend to think that most people who murder have at least some form of mental illness (which is why killing people isn't the norm...) so I'm all for removing them from society, but not for permanently eradicating them per my Christian beliefs.

The stats that I heard bantered about by CourtTV indicated that a more interesting question is "Do you support a moratorium on the death penalty?" Although America supports the death penalty (boogeymen seem to be suggesting that a guy with 5 life sentences is going to finish them up and go looking for their next victim at Walmart), the numbers change dramatically when you ask about the moratorium. America is very uneasy about the death penalty, it seems.

My guess is that most people in Orange County would support the death penalty as an option in at least extreme circumstances, but would overwhelmingly favor a moratorium.

I would be willing to bet it's a REGIONAL thing. IE--Northern Orange county is more "pro", Southern Orange more "con."

At least, that is how the county USED to trend. With all the new folks moving in north of town the demographic may have changed.


This is not a 'poll' in any sense of the word. Just calling it a poll gives it unjustified credibility, as people logically and understandably think a "poll" implies some sort of scientific survey. It is effectively a high-tech 'man on the street' story. To digress slightly, I took an UNC Intro to Journalism class (J-53) and learned how to do a "man on the street" story. In J-54 I did a "man on the street" story. Prof. Schumaker blasted me, noting that such stories are total BS, not representative of anything other than a few people's views. I agreed (though pointed out that we all had been taught how to do these "stories" in J-53...). The point is that legitimizing such "polls" is not good journalisim and we're seeing way too much of it on now (Dial *86 to register your opinion on whatever...). It certainly wouldn't surprise me that a majority of Northern Orange citizens support the death penalty, but I don't believe the News of Orange's Reader Forum informs me in any real way, however fun it may be fun to read (as the CH News' Man on the Street question is fun to read).

I totally agree, David. I just find these things entertaining. Current score:

Do you favor the death penalty?

Yes 51.5%
Sometimes 12.7%
No 33.9%
Unsure 1.8%

Total Votes: 165

It seems someone has counteracted our progressive OP groundswell.

I'm not sure what to think of the 12.7% of people that only favor the Death Penalty "sometimes" vs. the 51% who just say "yes" to state-sponsored executions...

While I'm not terribly surprised (disappointed yes, surprised no) by this "poll", it would have been interesting to have an accompanying poll asking "are you in favor of gun control?" My prediction would be that the no votes would be in the majority on that one. Violence seems to have become ingrained in our daily lives, including our so-called justice system. Perhaps that is why it has been relatively easy for this admiinistration to handle detainees without regard to civil liberties or common decencies. If the recent disclosures of spying on Americans by their own government doesn't cause some discomfort in the stomachs of a majority of citizens then perhaps our society has slipped even further than we had imagined.

These online polls really are ridiculous. Not just because of the self-selected sample, either. Here is CNN's daily QuickVote:

Were New York transit workers right to strike?

Now how many of the 30,800 respondents (so far) have any kind of informed opinion about this matter? Okay, so anyone in the NYC are has some kind of legitimate opinion, but the rest of us know (at most) whatever AOL/Time/Warner/Google has decided to tell us is the right answer.

So isn't the real question:
Do you believe CNN about who the bad guys are in the NYC transit strike?

Until life sentences without possibility of parole are instituted, I strongly support the death penalty for all repeat child molesters and those who kill for financial gain. Such rabid dogs must be dispensed with before they attack more victims.

Anne Russell PhD


Life sentences without the possibility of parole (LWOP) is the default sentence for all first degree murder cases in NC and has been since 1994. This year Texas became the 38th of the 39 death penalty states to institute LWOP. The importance you place on LWOP as an alternative to the death penalty is shared by many. When LWOP is given as a choice in polls about the death penalty, support for the death penalty drops below 50%. Juries have been responding to LWOP as an option as well. Death sentences have dropped dramatically since the creation of the Indigent Defense Services which guarantees higher quality defense counsel and the option of sentencing a defendant to LWOP.

Mark K.

Mark K:

Do you have any thoughts as to why, in states that have LWOP as an option, there is as much support for the death penalty as there is? Even though you say it's support in these states is below 50%, it must be pretty close to 50% since there doesn't seem to be a terribly loud outcry to abolish the death penalty completely. Or is there one that hasn't gotten media coverage?


I think that for some (like me), opposition to the death penalty runs deep. For others, support for the death penalty runs deep. But it seems, for the large group in the middle, the issue isn't as high a priority. The death penalty is just one of a large number of second tier issues that even when elected officials don't support a majority opinion, there is very little outcry as long as the elect-eds support the top tier issues that are important to individual voters. (E.g notice how Republican's in many states can do almost anything they want as long as they support marriage amendments) Complicating the matter is the general lack of understanding among many of how capital cases are prosecuted. Because the issue involves extreme emotions on all sides, and because of the horrors surrounding every murder, in order to gain a full understanding of all the issues about how the death penalty is meted out it is necessary to engage in a very challenging critical analysis regardless of which position a person ultimately settles on. Given this complexity, I think it's easy for many just to not think about the issue until they hear about a specific injustice (either an innocent being convicted, or the murder of a particulary vulnerable victim).

All this said, NY is a good example of how satisfaction with LWOP and general apathy about the death penalty has led to elimination of the death penalty in that state. Actually, it's best described as the failure of the state legislature to re-enact the death penalty after the former statute was determined to be unconstitutional by their state's highest court. After the penalty was thrown out, the state legislature just never "fixed" the statute (and they don't look inclined to even try to "fix it) even though, in the opinion of many, it wouldn't be hard to re-craft the statute to meet the demands of the court. New Yorkers (like most of the rest of the world) have determined that the interests justice and public safety are satisfied if you keep first-degree murders off the street forever.


Thanks for the excellent explanation. Given the number of new residents migrating to North Carolina, many of them arriving from northern states or Florida (where they might have originated from northern states), perhaps we can hope that North Carolina might one day see its way to accepting LWOP as the civilized alternative to the death penalty.

Although I'm opposed to the death penalty I might be willing to make an exception for evangelist Pat Robertson after hearing his comments yesterday in which he suggested that Ariel Sharon's massive stroke might be God's retribution for Sharon dividing the holy land.The fact that people still listen to this moron continues to amaze me.

All kidding aside, Robertson's comments support several points against the right wing's arguments for ID: (1) no intelligent deity would have ever come up with a Pat Robertson; and (2) there is a clear evolutionary line between Robertson and a certain gender of obstinate, for-legged creatures.


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