A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed that if Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to have a "serious conversation" about the death penalty with Coloradans, it will be a long one.
The poll showed that 69 percent of Coloradans support the death penalty and 67 percent disapproved of Hickenlooper's decision to grant a reprieve to convicted killer Nathan Dunlap last month. Sixty-three percent said they preferred the death penalty for Dunlap.
We oppose the death penalty on many grounds and commended the governor for his decision to issue an executive order sparing Dunlap's life, even if it wasn't permanent. Hickenlooper's decision is only in force so long as he is in office and can be undone by a future governor.
At the time he made his decision on Dunlap, Hickenlooper said he'd arrived at his decision after a great deal of research and thought about the death penalty, finally concluding it was flawed on many levels. It was in this context the governor said he wanted to "have some serious conversation" on the issue with the public.
What the Quinnipiac poll shows, though, is that Hickenlooper may be vulnerable in his bid for re-election and that the death penalty is an important issue for many Colorado voters. Seventy-four percent of voters said the issue of the death penalty would be "somewhat important" to "very important" in casting their vote for governor next year.
Interestingly, 57 percent of Coloradans said they did not think the death penalty deters murders.
Another revealing statistic: 53 percent said they thought the death penalty was applied fairly in Colorado, despite a mountain of evidence that its use in death-penalty eligible cases is quite arbitrary.
How informed are Coloradans about the death penalty debate? Forty-four percent said they had heard or read "a little" about the debate while 26 percent said they had heard or read "nothing at all."
Only 30 percent said they had heard or read "a lot" on the subject.
Of those Coloradans who did support abolishing the death penalty, the top reason was listed as, "No one has the right to take a life/It's murder." The second most-cited reason was, "Fear of executing an innocent person/Irreversible."
Those seem like pretty good reasons for opposing the death penalty -- and there are many more -- although apparently they don't resonate with most Coloradans.
We hope the conversation continues and that the governor leads it, polling aside.
--The Denver Post, June 14