Poll: McVeigh Delay Good, FBI Bad

050701, timothy mcveigh story image, JM AP / CBS

Americans agree with the government's decision on Friday to delay the execution of Timothy McVeigh for a month, but the last minute discovery of documents relating to the investigation of the bombing of a Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City six years ago appears to have tarnished the public's perception of the F.B.I., find a new CBS News Poll.

However, despite the last minute delay and doubts about the belated document discovery, Americans overwhelmingly favor executing McVeigh. In fact, more favor the death penalty in this specific case than say they favor it in general.


Document Discovery And The FBI

In this poll, overall opinion of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is evenly divided - just 24 percent of those interviewed Friday and Saturday after the announcement of the discovery of documents said they held a favorable opinion of the Bureau and 25 percent said their opinion was unfavorable. One year ago, favorable mentions outweighed unfavorable ones by a margin of four to one.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
Opinion Of The FBI

 Now4/00
Favorable

24%

43%


 Now4/00
Unfavorable

25%

10%

CBSNEWS Polls

There is also division about what caused the delay in giving the documents to McVeigh's lawyers. Forty percent said the F.B.I. did not give the documents to McVeigh's attorneys on purpose, and 41 percent said it was just a mistake. African-Americans were especially skeptical; more than twice as many thought the F.B.I. held back the documents on purpose than thought it was a mistake.


Why Weren't Documents Delivered Before?
F.B.I. withheld them on purpose: 40%
F.B.I. made a mistake: 41%


The Death Penalty And Timothy Mcveigh

Most Americans want Timothy McVeigh executed - even some people who say they oppose the death penalty in general. But by more than two to one, the public agrees that delaying the execution about one month because of the late discovery of documents relating to the case was the right thing to do.

Should McVeigh Execution Be Delayed?
Yes: 68%
No: 28%

Even among those who want McVeigh executed, 63 percent agree that delaying the date was the right thing to do.

There is enormous agreement that McVeigh should be executed. By a margin of over three to one, Americans favor the death penalty for McVeigh. And even when offered the option of life in prison without parole, twice as many want him executed than would imprison him for life.

Punishing Timothy McVeigh
Death Penalty
Favor 72%
Oppose 23%

Death or Life Without Parole
Death penalty 65%
Life without parole 32%

Overall, about two-thirds of Americans favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder #151; about the same percentage who have favored it since at least 1995, but fewer than the number supporting it in 1990 and earlier. During the 1988 presidential campaign, when the death penalty was a campaign issue, as many as 78 percent said they favored the death penalty for persons convicted of murder. Today, support drops significantly when the option of life in prison without the possibility of parole is offered — then just 45 percent prefer the death penalty.

The Penalty For Murder
Death Penalty
Favor 66%
Oppose 24%

Death Life Without Parole
Death penalty 45%
Life without parole 41%


Opposing The Death Penalty

One change that has occurred in the last ten years is the fact that fewer people now consider the death penalty a deterrent to murder. In 1990, 60 percent thought it was a deterrent. Now just 42 percent think it is.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
Does The Death Penalty Deter Murder?

 Now1990
Yes

42%

60%


 Now1990
No

47%

32%

CBSNEWS Polls

About half the people who oppose the death penalty in general clearly oppose it in principle. They say either that no one, not even the government has the right to take a life or that their religion forbids the taking of a life, even as punishment.

Concern about executing an innocent person is mentioned by 14 percent as the reason they oppose the death penalty. In a separate question, 12 percent of Americans overall had a lot of concern that innocent people may be executed, and 74 percent were concerned a little. Ten percent were not at all concerned about this.

Concern About Executing Innocent Person
A lot 12%
A little 74%
Not at all 10%

But there are some groups who are especially concerned about the death penalty. Women are less likely than men to support it (and more women would like to punish murderers with life in prison without parole than by death), and racial differences are especially strong.

In fact, African-Americans are among the few groups where a majority opposes the death penalty. In this poll, just 31 percent of blacks favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, while 61 percent oppose it. When given the option of life in prison without parole, just 16 percent of blacks favor the death penalty. Even in the case of McVeigh, racial differences remain. Seventy-seven percent of whites would execute McVeigh, compared with 43 percent of blacks.

This poll was conducted among a nationwide sample of 1,063 adults, interviewed by telephone May 10-12, 2001. 670 were interviewed May 11-12, 2001 after the announcement of the delay in the execution of Timothy McVeigh. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sampe, and plus or minus four percentage points for results of interviews conducted after the announcement.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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