Americans broadly agree on the trial and potential punishment for alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: Three-quarters support trying him in a non-military federal court, and seven in 10 say he should receive the death penalty if convicted.
While majorities across the board share these views in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, there are substantial partisan, ideological and racial differences. Support for trying Tsarnaev in federal court rather than a military tribunal ranges from 68 percent among “very” conservative adults to 83 percent of liberals. Republicans are 20 percentage points more apt than Democrats to favor the death penalty if he’s convicted, 84 vs. 64 percent. And support for capital punishment drops to 52 percent among African-Americans, vs. 75 percent of whites.
Overall, 70 percent in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, say the 19-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen should be put to death if found guilty – more than the number who’ve favored the death penalty in general in recent polls, a common result for particularly notorious crimes. For example, three-quarters supported the death sentence for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Differences among groups in views on Tsarnaev likely reflect political predispositions on these issues, rather than the specifics of his case. Republicans and conservatives are more apt in general to support military tribunals and the death penalty; Democrats and liberals, less so.
Still, notably in this poll, 59 percent not only support capital punishment in the event of a conviction, but feel that way “strongly,” vs. just 19 percent strongly opposed – an indication of the level of outrage the Boston bombing has evoked.
There’s again variation among groups, though; strong support for the death penalty reaches 70 percent among senior citizens, for instance, vs. 46 percent among young adults, aged 18-29.
In terms of the venue, the 74 percent overall who support a federal court trial rather than a military tribunal includes 50 percent who support it strongly, again far more than the number who express strong opposition, 13 percent.
ABC/Post polls in 2009 and 2010 found less support for the general proposition of trying terrorism suspects in federal court vs. a military tribunal, with preference for the federal courts ranging from 39 to 47 percent. Higher preference for the federal courts in this case could stem from different question wording, specifics of the Boston incident, a change in attitudes, or some combination of these.
METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cell phone April 24-28, 2013, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,000 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points. The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by SSRS/Social Science Research Solutions of Media, Pa.