Latino Public Opinion & Perception

The Death Penalty and Gun Control: The Longstanding Issues

Latinos exhibit strong feelings about some longstanding controversies. They strongly support existing gun control measures such as criminal background checks and a national gun database, and they are less likely than either whites or blacks to own a gun. Latino support for the death penalty has dropped sharply in recent years. Intergenerational variations and differences resulting from country of origin and religious affiliation exist as well.

Death penalty

Surveys show that most Latinos supported the death penalty until recently but that more now oppose it and many express concerns about the way it is applied. Support varies by generation, country of origin, and religious affiliation.

Fig 4-1

Source: R.P. Jones and Cox, 2012

A 2002 analysis of public opinion survey results found that larger shares of Latinos favored the death penalty than any other racial group (Uhlaner & Garcia, F. Chris, 2002), and a 2012 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) corroborates this, finding a higher level of Hispanic support for the death penalty (60 percent) than for African Americans (54 percent) (R. P. Jones & Cox, 2012). Some national data show whites with the highest support, however. A 1996 study found more whites (77 percent) in favor of the death penalty than either Hispanics (52 percent) or African Americans (40 percent) (Longmire, 1996). The 1999 National Survey on Latinos in America contains similar results, finding 54 percent of Latinos support the death penalty, compared with 76 percent of whites (Leal, 2007).

Recent surveys show less support for the death penalty among Latinos, however. The 2013 PRRI survey found only 37 percent of Latinos in support of the death penalty, and the 2014 Pew Research Center number was similar, at 40 percent support compared with 63 percent for whites and 36 percent for blacks (Jones, Cox, & Navarro-Rivera, 2013; Pew Research Center, 2014b).

Variations among Latinos also emerge from the data. The 1999 survey noted different levels of support for the death penalty based on respondents’ country of origin, ranging from the 42 percent of those of Central or South American origin up to 70 percent support from those of Cuban origin. A 2012 Pew Research Center survey found that 57 percent of Hispanic Catholics favored the death penalty, compared with 52 percent of Hispanics overall (Pew Research Center, 2012). Generational differences also became apparent in the PRRI 2012 survey: 54 percent of first-generation Hispanics favored the death penalty; support climbed significantly among Hispanics in the second (66 percent) and third (73 percent) generations (see figure 1) (R. P. Jones & Cox, 2012).

California attitudes toward the death penalty largely reflect national trends. The Field Poll found that in 2000, 53 percent of Latinos and 67 percent of whites favored the death penalty (DiCamillo & Field, 2000). In 2004 the shares were boosted to 71 percent of Latinos in favor, compared with 70 percent of whites, 64 percent of Asians, and 45 percent of blacks (DiCamillo & Field, 2004). By 2010, a similar 69 percent of Latinos were in favor, compared with 71 percent of whites and 63 percent of blacks (DiCamillo & Field, 2010). When asked which sentence they preferred for someone convicted of first-degree murder, 55 percent of Latinos favored life in prison to the death penalty, more than whites and Asians (45 and 43 percent, respectively) but at a rate lower than blacks (66 percent) (DiCamillo & Field, 2011).

Fig 4-2

Source: DiCamillo and Field, 2004

A 2012 California ballot initiative that would have repealed the death penalty failed by 6 percentage points, and surveys on Prop 34 show Latinos leading the death penalty supporters. When polled in September of that year, only 32 percent of Latinos approved and 52 percent of Latinos were opposed to the measure, compared with 46 percent of whites, 41 percent of Asians, and 22 percent of blacks who opposed the proposition (DiCamillo & Field, 2012b). A survey conducted roughly six weeks later (just days before the election) found little change in most groups. Hispanics, however, nearly flipped their numbers: 47 percent of Latinos said they supported the measure, and 32 percent were opposed (DiCamillo & Field, 2012a).

Despite their overall support for the policy, Latinos in California have reservations about the way the death penalty is applied. Three-quarters (76 percent) of Latinos in 2000 favored Governor Gray Davis’s halting all executions until a study of the fairness of the death penalty could be carried out. Whites were 69 percent in favor, and “other” weighed in at 90 percent in favor of halting executions (DiCamillo & Field, 2000). While 59 percent of Hispanics agreed that “the instances in which death penalty has been imposed on convicted criminals in California has been generally fair and free of error,” only 39 percent of blacks concurred with the statement. Whites and Asians polled at similar levels to Latinos (see figure 2) (DiCamillo & Field, 2004).

Gun control

Latinos are less likely than either whites or blacks to own a gun. They strongly support existing gun control measures such as criminal background checks and a national gun database.

Fig 4-3

Source: J.M. Jones, 2013

Hispanics take a strong supportive stance on gun control policy mechanisms. Three-quarters of Latinos say that gun control is more important than gun rights, compared with 66 percent of blacks and 42 percent of whites (Toch & Maguire, 2014). In 1996, 81 percent of Hispanics felt that the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, compared with 57 percent of whites and 71 percent of African Americans. The lowest share of Hispanic respondents (12 percent) thought the laws should be kept as they are, compared with 33 percent of whites and 15 percent of African Americans (Adams, 1996). The 1999 National Survey on Latinos in America found that 71 percent of Latinos said guns should be harder to buy, compared with 65 percent of whites (Leal, 2007). In a survey of youth aged 18 to 29, Latinos were more likely than either blacks or whites to cite “too many guns in circulation” as a leading cause of gun violence in cities (24 percent versus 19 for blacks and 11 for whites) (Rogowski, 2013). Hispanics show particularly below-average gun ownership compared with other racial groups; only 18 percent report owning a gun, versus 33 percent of whites and 22 percent of nonwhites overall (see figure 4.4) (J. M. Jones, 2013a).

In a 2013 poll of Latino voters on six different gun control issues, more than half of all respondents voiced support for all six of the restrictions mentioned in the survey. Among the key findings: “Policies that emphasize prevention and tracking are the most widely supported. Criminal background checks for potential gun owners [ranks as] the most popular proposal, with 84 percent in favor, and a mere 13 percent opposed. A national database of gun owners is also widely supported by 69 percent of Latino voters.” The study presents these findings as proof that Latinos care about gun violence and gun control in the context of encouraging U.S. lawmakers to consider Latino perspectives when dealing with this issue (Pantoja, 2013).

Photo © 2005 David Monniaux

Works Cited

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