53% say Boston bomber should face death penalty

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WASHINGTON– A new CNN/ORC poll finds most Americans think Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the man found guilty on 30 counts related to the bombings which occurred during the Boston Marathon in April 2013, should face the death penalty for his crimes.

Overall, 53% of Americans say he should be put to death, while 45% feel he should spend the rest of his life in prison.

Residents of the Northeast, where the bombings occurred, are more sharply tilted in favor of death for Tsarnaev than others: 58% say he should face death, 38% that he should be imprisoned for life. Elsewhere, 52% favor the death penalty while 47% say Tsarnaev should get life in prison.

That runs contrary to typical regional divides on the death penalty. The last time a CNN/ORC poll asked generally about whether those convicted of murder should face the death penalty or life in prison in May 2014, residents of the Northeast were less apt to say they would prefer such criminals be put to death (46% said those convicted of murder should face the death penalty).

Aside from the regional split, demographic divides on this question mirror those on support for the death penalty generally. Men (57%) are more apt than women (49%) to say Tsarnaev should face death; those who haven’t attended college are more apt to favor death for Tsarnaev (59%) than those who have (48%); and whites favor death over life imprisonment more so than non-whites (58% among whites vs. 43% among non-whites).

Fewer feel Tsarnaev ought to face the death penalty than said so about Timothy McVeigh following his conviction for carrying out the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in April 1995. An August 1997 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that 64% of Americans felt McVeigh ought to face the death penalty for his crimes, 34% preferred life in prison.

Over the years, public support for the death penalty generally has waned, and McVeigh’s conviction came at a peak in public support for capital punishment. In CNN’s polling, support for the death penalty for those convicted of murder hit its high point in 1997 at 61%. More recently, the public has been closely divided, with 47% saying they favor the death penalty in a CNN/ORC poll in May 2014 while 50% preferred life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The CNN/ORC International poll was conducted by telephone April 16-19 among a random national sample of 1,018 adults. The question about Tsarnaev was asked of a half sample of 510 respondents and have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

By Jennifer Agiesta

CNN Polling Director