Massachusetts Residents Confident in 2014 Boston Marathon Security, Support Execution of Tsarnaev More than Death Penalty in General

Respondents indicate stronger support for increased security measures than in the months following the 2013 bombing, decreased overall support for capital punishment

AMHERST, Mass. – Massachusetts and Boston residents are relatively confident in the ability of law enforcement agencies to maintain security at the upcoming 2014 Boston Marathon, and although general support for the death penalty has declined in Massachusetts since the weeks following the 2013 Marathon bombing, support for executing a convicted bomber has remained consistent according to a new UMass Poll released today by the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

In an online survey of 500 registered Massachusetts voters conducted by YouGov America under the direction of the UMass Poll from March 31 to April 6, 46 percent of respondents indicated that they were “very confident” in the ability of law enforcement to provide security along the route of the race on April 21, while only 6 percent stated that they were “not at all confident.” Among Boston residents, 48 percent stated they were very confident in security measures for the race, which is expected to draw a crowd nearly twice as large as last year’s tragedy-marred event. In general, only 8 percent of respondents both statewide and in Boston were “very concerned” about the possibility of any terrorist attack in their immediate areas of residency.

This confidence in security is reflected in respondents’ views on various options to minimize the threat of a potential attack at public events such as the Marathon. When asked their opinions on measures ranging from increasing the number of police officers and video cameras to the use of metal detectors and even surveillance “drones,” respondents favored each proposal at a higher rate in this survey than when asked the same question as part of a similar UMass Poll in May 2013.

“Marathon officials are expecting a much larger crowd than last year, but despite that fact, Massachusetts citizens report that they are confident in plans for maintaining security at the event,” said Brian Schaffner, director of the UMass Poll. “It is notable that Massachusetts citizens are even more willing now than they were last year to support potentially intrusive screening of individuals at the Marathon. Clearly, security is an important issue as the Marathon approaches.”

When asked about potential punishment for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should he be found guilty of planning and perpetrating last year’s bombing at the Marathon’s finish line in Copley Square, there was no change across the board from the responses obtained in the May 2013 UMass Poll. Half of the 500 respondents of this year’s poll were asked their views on the possible execution of Tsarnaev, while the other half were asked their support of capital punishment as a penalty for murder in general. Fifty-nine percent of those asked about Tsarnaev stated that they believe he should receive the death penalty, while 35 percent feel he should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Only 6 percent were unsure. These numbers are all exactly the same as those of the survey taken nearly a year ago in the aftermath of the bombing.

“The passage of time has not cooled passions,” said Raymond La Raja, associate director of the UMass Poll. “Support for the death penalty for Tsarnaev has remained consistent over the past year, even though just over one-in-three voters support the death penalty in the abstract. The more they hear about the Tsarnaevs, the more they feel the ultimate punishment is called for.”

The desire for Tsarnaev to face execution if found guilty does not carry over to a general support for a return of the death penalty within the Commonwealth, however. Those asked their general views on capital punishment actually showed less support for the death penalty than the respondents of the 2013 UMass Poll. In 2013, 50 percent of those polled believed the death penalty is the better sentence for those found guilty of murder, while in 2014 that number has fallen to 37 percent. In contrast, 53 percent now believe life imprisonment with absolutely no possibility of parole is the better penalty for murder, up from only 40 percent in 2013.

“Even in a dyed-in-the-wool blue state, the actions of Tsarnaev last year continue to compel residents of the Commonwealth to overwhelmingly support the ultimate punishment for him should he be found guilty,” said Tatishe Nteta, associate director of the UMass Poll. Among Democrats surveyed in the recent poll, 49 percent preferred the death penalty for Tsarnaev, as opposed to 47 percent in favor of life imprisonment. Meanwhile, only 20 percent of Democrats polled support the death penalty in general, while 72 percent favor life without parole.

Respondents of this poll were matched to a target sample of Massachusetts registered voters based on gender, age, race, education, party identification, ideology and political interest. YouGov then weighted the matched set of survey respondents to known characteristics of registered voters from the state of Massachusetts from the 2010 American Community Surveyusing propensity score weighting and then post stratified the weights to party registration statistics from October 2012. All analyses were produced using these weights, and the margin of error for the poll is 5.9 percent.


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