Support strong for lottery, death penalty in N.C., Elon University Poll finds

A majority of North Carolinians are in favor of a new state lottery scheduled to begin in 2006, despite the ethical questions surrounding public officials and the creation of the lottery, and the death penalty is supported as the appropriate punishment for people found guilty of first-degree murder by a majority of citizens.

These are the findings of the latest Elon University Poll, conducted Nov. 14-17 by the Elon University Institute for Politics and Public Affairs. Telephone interviews were conducted with 488 North Carolinians, with a margin of error of plus/minus 4.53 percent.

Sixty-nine percent of state residents said they support or strongly support a lottery, despite the recent ethical problems associated with the formation of a lottery commission. Support for the lottery was consistent in each region of the state, with support the strongest in eastern North Carolina at 73 percent. Lottery support was measured at 69 percent in central N.C. and 65 percent in western N.C.

“Contrary to conventional wisdom, support for the lottery is strongest down east,” said Hunter Bacot, director of the Elon University Poll.

“Perhaps we are seeing this because of the promise the lottery holds for improving schools, and this need is greater down east than anywhere else in the state.”

The ethical questions surrounding the creation of a state lottery commission has not affected public confidence in the commission’s ability to operate the game. Sixty-three percent of North Carolinians say they have some confidence or a lot of confidence in the lottery commission, compared with 30 percent who said they had not much confidence or no confidence. A similar number of respondents, 63 percent, said they had some confidence or a lot of confidence in the state government’s ability to operate the lottery.

“These findings on the lottery suggest that either people are not aware of the controversy over the lottery, or perhaps they really just don’t care about the events surrounding its start-up,” said Bacot. “Either way, the politics surrounding the lottery and the lottery commission have not dampened its support among North Carolinians. From these findings, it appears citizens just want the games to begin.”

The poll also found support for the death penalty in North Carolina remains high. Sixty-one percent of those surveyed said execution is the most appropriate punishment for first-degree murderers, while 27 percent said life in prison without the possibility of parole is appropriate.

“This really shouldn’t be much of a surprise, since North Carolina is among the 10 states with the most people on death row,” said Bacot.

When asked if they support or oppose the death penalty for people convicted of first-degree murder, 64 percent supported the death penalty while 24 percent opposed it.

Support for the death penalty was consistent regionally across North Carolina—66 percent in eastern N.C., 62 percent in central N.C., and 69 percent in western N.C.

“Public officials and the governor are in line with residents on the death penalty,” said Bacot. “North Carolina is one of the leaders in this policy area, so these sentiments from the public should not be all that surprising. Recognizing the cultural diversity across the different regions of the state, however, it is interesting that the figures are all quite similar throughout the state.”

A majority of citizens opposed the death penalty for criminals under the age of 18, however. Fifty-five percent oppose or strongly oppose the death penalty for minors under 18, while 34 percent voiced support or strong support.

“Clearly, there seems to be a distinction in most people’s minds between a youth and an adult,” said Bacot. “This suggests that North Carolinians, despite their tendency to support the death penalty, may be in line with the recent Supreme Court decision in Roper v. Simmons which ruled it unconstitutional to execute a minor.”

The Elon University Poll, which began in September 2000, is operated by the Elon Institute for Politics and Public Affairs. The Elon University Center for Public Opinion houses the Elon University Poll and conducts frequent statewide public opinion surveys on issues of importance to North Carolinians. The survey results are shared with media, citizens, and researchers to facilitate informed public policy making through the better understanding of the opinions and attitudes of North Carolina citizens. By conducting several public opinion surveys annually, the Elon University Poll continually contributes to the advancement of North Carolina and its citizens, which further enhances its status as the poll of record in North Carolina.

Interviews for the Elon Poll are conducted by students who work under the supervision of faculty members in the political science department. A computerized polling center located on campus is equipped with sophisticated statistical software and 38 telephone polling stations.