NEW ORLEANS, LA — A statewide poll released today shows that Louisianans prefer life sentences over the death penalty as a punishment for first degree murder by a 2 to 1 margin. Fifty-seven percent of respondents chose either life without parole (42%) or 35 years to Life (15%) as their preferred punishment for first degree murder, while just 24% selected the death penalty. Life sentences crossed partisan lines with 70% of Democrats, and a strong plurality of Independents (47%) and Republicans (44%) indicating this preference. Life sentences are especially preferred among voters under 40 (71%).
The poll also found that a majority of voters did not include the death penalty among their tax priorities, which were dominated by K-12 education (88%), health care (88%), roads and highway repairs (85%), and higher education (75%). Only 37% of voters said that preserving the death penalty was a priority.
State legislators are also concerned about the dent the death penalty is making in the state budget, and will consider bills this session to ensure that new capital cases don’t drive the state further into debt. The legislature recently commissioned the Fiscal Impact Commission to study the fiscal costs of the death penalty and a report is expected in January of 2018. There is no question that the state is spending millions of dollars a year to keep the death penalty. It is estimated that the cost is more than 100 million dollars over the last 15 years. HB 1090, authored by Rep. Cedric Glover (D-Shreveport) and SB 450, authored by Sen. Wesley Bishop (D-New Orleans) were filed on April 5, 2016 and would establish a Capital Cost Commission to determine if funds exist before allowing capital prosecutions to proceed.
Declining support for the death penalty corresponds with a dramatic decline in death sentences in Louisiana over the last two decades. During the 1980s and ‘90s, Louisiana was sentencing approximately 80 people to death per decade. Since that time, Louisiana has experienced a nearly 75% decrease in death sentences. The state has only sentenced 54 people to death since 2000. One person was sentenced to death in 2015, while no one has been sentenced to death in 2016. Only three people have been executed since 2000. In contrast, the National Registry of Exoneration reports seven exonerations in the state since 2000.
“These poll results, along with recent sentencing trends, show that Louisiana citizens are no longer willing to put their name behind the death penalty,” commented Mercedes Montagnes of the Promise of Justice Initiative. “Recognizing Louisiana’s current fiscal crisis, it’s a good time for the legislature to consider whether this is a governmental program the State really needs.”
As the Governor and legislature work to balance the budget and keep their constituents satisfied, voters report that a legislator’s support for the death penalty is the last thing they consider when voting. The primary considerations are a legislator’s votes on taxes and responsiveness to constituent concerns.
The poll of 600 Louisiana voters was conducted between March 9th – March 16th by Multiquest International and included a random sampling of voters from every parish in the state.