New Poll: Pennsylvanians Support Gov. Wolf’s Death Penalty Moratorium

Majority of Pennsylvania Voters Prefer Alternatives to Capital Punishment

York, Pennsylvania — A poll released today shows that 50% of Pennsylvanians support Governor Tom Wolf’s decision to temporarily pause executions, while only 44% oppose the decision and 5% are unsure how they feel. The poll also revealed that 54% of Pennsylvanians prefer some version of a life in prison sentence over the death penalty. Only 42% of respondents said the death penalty was their preferred punishment for persons convicted of murder. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling and commissioned by a criminal justice professor at York College.

View the full results here:

While running for governor, Tom Wolf repeatedly pledged to halt executions if he was elected. In February 2015, one month into his term, Gov. Wolf announced his decision to pause executions until the bipartisan Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment (established under Senate Resolution 6 of 2011) issues a report and their recommendations are satisfactorily addressed. The Governor’s announcement stated, “If the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is going to take the irrevocable step of executing a human being, its capital sentencing system must be infallible. Pennsylvania’s system is riddled with flaws, making it error prone, expensive, and anything but infallible.”

The survey also found that a very small percentage of voters–just 3%–said the death penalty was the most important issue when deciding how to vote for Pennsylvania state legislator.  A sizable 78% of voters indicated that if they generally agreed with a candidate on most issues, and were of the same political party, they were somewhat or very likely to vote for that candidate regardless of their position on the death penalty.

When asked about cost, the poll found that 70% of voters think the death penalty is less expensive than a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Dr. Eric Ling, an associate professor of criminal justice who commissioned the poll, said, “This poll suggests that there is a really significant opportunity to explain to voters why the death penalty costs so much more than a sentence of life in prison without parole. Pennsylvania has spent $350 million on the death penalty over the past few decades while carrying out just three executions. Clearly, more information about how much the state is really spending on the death penalty and what taxpayers are getting in return would be helpful. This is the type of information the Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment should be able to shed some light on when they issue their report.”

Dr. Ling has been talking to his criminal justice students about the death penalty for the last few years. “I wanted to see how attitudes about the death penalty were being shaped by the governor’s decision to pause executions and find out whether Pennsylvanians’ views on capital punishment would mirror the national trend, which is moving away from the punishment,” said Dr. Ling. “Given that 54% of voters prefer some version of a life in prison sentence for persons convicted of murder, this poll indicates that Pennsylvanians are open to exploring alternatives to the death penalty.”

The poll was conducted March 20-22 and has a margin of error of +/-4.2%. The survey included 632 Pennsylvania voters.

View the full results here:

For additional information, or to schedule interviews with Professor Eric Ling, please contact Stefanie Faucher at 510-393-4549 or