'Mushy' Opinions

Majority Opinion Changes Based on Wording

In the 2020 Death Penalty Study, what was the majority opinion regarding the death penalty? Did the majority favor the death penalty? Since 1939, Gallup has used biased wording to measure support for the death penalty: 


'Do you favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder?' 


This is biased because 1) a positive response is favored and 2) no alternative punishment is provided. Death is the only choice. Gallup uses this version for historical comparisons only. Gallup (and others) also ask a better, unbiased version: 


'Which of the following do you agree with more? The penalty for murder should be the death penalty OR life in prison with absolutely no possibility of parole.' 


Half the people in the Death Penalty Study (picked at random) were asked the biased version. The other half was asked the unbiased version. Among those asked the biased version, a large majority of 65% favored the death penalty. Among those asked the unbiased version, only a minority (49%) favored the death penalty. 


'Majority' opinion on the death penalty depends on how you ask the opinion question.



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