Online polls find more support for the death penalty than phone polls in the US

Six in 10 American adults favor the death penalty for those convicted of murder, according to an April Pew Research Center survey that was conducted online using the center’s American Trends Panel. The share of adults who support capital punishment for convicted murderers has remained relatively stable in the Center’s online surveys in recent years.

Opinions on the death penalty also remained stable in the Centre’s telephone surveys during this period. But while there has been relative continuity in Americans’ opinions across both survey modes, the public consistently expresses more support for the death penalty online than on the phone – a finding with important implications. to understand the trends on the issue.

As the Center has previously noted, people sometimes – but not always – react differently to similar questions on the same topics in online and telephone surveys. This may be the case for a variety of reasons, including the fact that survey respondents’ responses may be influenced by the presence of a live telephone interviewer (as opposed to online surveys, which are self-administered).

The Pew Research Center conducted this study to better understand Americans’ views on the death penalty and to examine the effects of survey mode on attitudes toward the death penalty. For this analysis, we recently surveyed 5,109 American adults in April 2021. All of those who participated in the April survey are members of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel recruited by national random sampling of residents. addresses. In this way, almost all American adults have a chance of being selected. The survey is weighted to be representative of the US adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, party affiliation, education and other categories. Learn more about the ATP methodology.

This study also uses data from three pairs of contemporary online and telephone surveys. In September 2019, we surveyed 9,895 American adults online and 2,004 American adults by phone. In January 2020, we surveyed 12,638 American adults online and 1,504 American adults by phone. And in July and August 2020, we surveyed 11,001 American adults online and 1,750 American adults by phone. All of those who participated in these online surveys were members of the American Trends Panel at the time they were interviewed. Telephone survey respondents were randomly selected using a combination of random samples of landline and mobile phone numbers, and interviews were conducted in English and Spanish under the direction of Abt Associates .

Here are the questions used in the April 2021 survey, along with the answers and its methodology. Additional information on the methodology used for each of the previous surveys is available here:

To explore possible “fads” in the context of Americans’ views on capital punishment, the Center began in September 2019 to include questions about the death penalty in surveys using the online American Trends Panel. We asked this question three times in online and phone surveys conducted during the same time periods: in September 2019, January 2020 and August 2020. By asking the question both ways in contemporary surveys, we were able to not only assess differences by survey mode, but also determine whether attitudes have changed over the period in question.

In the ATP and telephone surveys, opinions have remained relatively constant over this period. However, there were important – and largely consistent – ​​differences between the two modes.

In a survey conducted by the American Trends Panel in August 2020, 65% of adults said they supported the death penalty for those convicted of murder, while 34% opposed it. In a telephone poll over an almost identical period, 52% of adults are in favor of the death penalty and 44% oppose it. On the two previous occasions the Center asked this question in both survey formats, support for the death penalty was 9 and 10 percentage points higher, respectively, in online surveys than in telephone polls. . (There were slight differences in the wording of the online and telephone surveys; see top row for wording of questions.)

The experience of answering surveys is different when respondents speak with a live interviewer, as opposed to answering a question online. In addition, survey questions on sensitive or controversial topics – and opinions on the death penalty may be one of these topics – may be more likely to elicit different responses in different modes, perhaps in due to social desirability bias. When mode differences arise from social desirability, data collected through self-administered modes (e.g., online) are generally more accurate than data collected by an interviewer (e.g., by telephone), all things being equal Moreover.

When it comes to opinions on the death penalty, fashion differences are greater among Democrats than Republicans. In the August 2020 online survey, 83% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they support the death penalty, compared to 74% in the phone survey. Among Democrats and Democrats, 49% said they support the death penalty online, compared to 32% on the phone. This pattern was evident all three times the Center asked the question in both modes.

Because this fad is more pronounced among Democrats than Republicans — and because Republicans are generally more pro-death penalty than Democrats — partisan differences are somewhat smaller in online polls than in telephone surveys. In the August 2020 online survey, for example, Republicans were 34 percentage points more likely than Democrats to favor the death penalty. In the telephone survey carried out the same month, the partisan gap was 42 points.

Larger differences between Democrats than Republicans in favor of the death penalty in online polls compared to telephone polls

The trend of greater support for the death penalty in online surveys also applies to all racial and ethnic groups. Across all three pairs of surveys, white adults were on average 8 percentage points more likely to say they were in favor of the death penalty online than on the phone. The gaps were even larger among black and Hispanic adults: 17 points and 18 points, respectively, on average.

White, Black and Hispanic adults are all more likely to say they support the death penalty in online polls, but mode differences are smaller among white adults

University graduates and those without a university degree are more likely to favor the death penalty in online polls than by telephone. Across all three pairs of surveys in this analysis, university graduates were 8 points more likely to say they were in favor of the death penalty online than over the phone, on average. Adults without a college degree were on average 11 points more likely to support capital punishment online than over the phone.

Support for the death penalty has been relatively stable in recent years but remains lower than in the mid-1990s

Due to substantial differences between modes of support for the death penalty, the results of online surveys on this issue should not be directly compared to telephone estimates. However, telephone surveys provide a basis for examining long-term changes in public attitudes towards the death penalty.

These surveys, conducted with a live interviewer asking respondents for their opinion, showed a steady decline in support for the death penalty in the United States since the mid-1990s. the death penalty for those convicted of murder decreased by 26 percentage points (from 78% to 52%). Opposition to the death penalty more than doubled during this period, rising from 18% to 44%.

Over the long term, telephone polls have revealed declining support for the death penalty in the United States

Surveys conducted both by telephone and online over the past few years have revealed largely stable attitudes, with a slight decrease online in support for the death penalty since 2019.

Other survey research organizations have observed similar shifts in public opinion about the death penalty over the past 25 years. For example, Gallup telephone surveys find a similar long-term decline in support, with little change in attitudes in recent years.

Note: Here are the questions used in the April 2021 survey, along with the responses and its methodology.

André Daniller is a policy research associate at the Pew Research Center.

Jocelyn Kiley is associate director of research at the Pew Research Center.

Melvin G. Rodriguez