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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 01:29 PM ET, 11/09/2009

On eve of execution, Virginians broadly support penalty

With John Allen Muhammad, the mastermind of the 2002 D.C. sniper attacks, scheduled to be executed tomorrow, Virginia voters are broadly in favor of the death penalty for those convicted of murder, according to new data from a Washington Post poll.

Virginia voters favor the death penalty by a better than 2 to 1 margin, with 66 percent supportive of it, 31 percent opposed. And intensity on this issue is with the supporters: 45 percent "strongly" back capital punishment, 18 percent are that solidly opposed.

But in Northern Virginia - site of several shootings by Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo - a smaller majority of 56 percent backs the death penalty, compared with 71 percent in the rest of the state.

Support for capital punishment has dipped since it was a centerpiece issue in the 2005 gubernatorial campaign. Just before that vote, 72 percent of likely voters statewide said they favored the death penalty, 30 percent opposed it.

In the new poll, Republicans (82 percent support) and independents (69 percent) are more apt to favor the death penalty than are Democrats (45 percent). Support for capital punishment is also far higher among men than women (73 to 60 percent), with the gender gap sharpest among political independents (77 percent of independent men back the punishment compared with 57 percent of independent women).

There is a wide racial gap in support for the death penalty. Among whites, 72 percent support it while a majority of African Americans (56 percent) oppose it. And younger voters (59 percent among those under age 35) are less supportive than older voters (68 percent among those 35-64 and 67 percent among seniors).

If Muhammad is executed as scheduled tomorrow (a prospect which seems more likely given today's Supreme Court denial of a stay of execution), it will be the 10th execution during the tenure of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, whose personal opposition to the death penalty prompted harsh criticism from his Republican opponent Jerry W. Kilgore during his 2005 campaign.

Q. Do you favor or oppose the death penalty for persons convicted of murder?

              --- Favor ----   --- Oppose ---
              NET   Strongly   NET   Strongly
All           66       45      31       18 

Democrat      45       27      51       30 
Republican    82       62      17       11 
Independent   69       44      28       16 

Northern VA   56       33      40       22 
Rest of state 71       50      27       16 

White         72       49      26       15 
Black         41       27      56       34 

Men           73       52      26       15 
Women         60       37      37       22 

18-34         59       40      40       22 
35-64         68       46      29       18 
65+           67       46      31       16 

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  01:29 PM ET, 11/09/2009

Categories:  Virginia, Virginia, Virginia

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