Like Rick Perry, most ‘pro-life’ Americans OK with death penalty

One of the unexpected twists in the debate between the Kevork Djansezian GETTY IMAGES Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick … Continued

One of the unexpected twists in the debate between the

Kevork Djansezian

GETTY IMAGES

Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during the Ronald Reagan Centennial GOP Presidential Primary Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on September 7, 2011 in Simi Valley, California.

Republican presidential primary candidates last week was the prominence of the death penalty. When Governor Rick Perry’s touted his role in overseeing 234 executions (and counting) as governor of Texas, the audience broke into enthusiastic applause. Perry chalked up the audience response to strong support for the death penalty, confidently concluding, “I think Americans understand justice.”

Perry’s identification as a strong supporter of “a culture of life” and what he called the “ultimate justice” of capital punishment, however, raises some potentially thorny questions about the meaning of being “pro-life.” In campaign season, the question is whether American voters, especially voters who identify as “pro-life,” are going to raise concerns about why Perry’s position doesn’t represent what some Catholic theologians call “a consistent ethic of life,” opposition to both legalized abortion and capital punishment. A quick foray into public opinion, however, seems to indicate that Perry may be facing little pressure on this front for at least two reasons.

First, while the political catchphrase “pro-life” may appear to be straightforward, PRRI’s recent survey of Millennials, Religion, and Abortion found that a surprisingly wide array of Americans identify with the term. Strong majorities of the American public, for example, identify as both pro-choice (70 percent) and pro-life (66 percent) in the context of the debates over the legalization of abortion. And when the debate is extended beyond abortion to other moral issues such as capital punishment, the meaning of the term becomes even hazier.

Second, only about one-in-ten (11 percent) Americans hold a “consistent ethic of life” position, opposing legalized abortion and capital punishment. In fact, in the general public, there is no significant correlation between attitudes about the legality of abortion and views on capital punishment. Fully two-thirds of Americans overall say they favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, compared to only three-in-ten who say they oppose it. Support for capital punishment is virtually identical to the general population among Americans who say abortion should be illegal (69 percent) and among those who identify as “pro-life” (69 percent).

Image via Public Religion Research Institute

Moreover, even fewer “pro-life” Republicans (12 percent) and Americans who identity with the Tea Party (7 percent) hold a “consistent ethic of life” position. Fully 79 percent of “pro-life” Republicans and 85 percent of “pro-life” Tea Party identifiers who say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases also support the death penalty.

While Perry is out of step with the solid majority (56 percent) of Americans who say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, his support for capital punishment is widely shared. And while the tensions inherent in his anti-abortion/pro-death penalty position may raise the eyebrows of some Catholic theologians and students of semantics, they appear to be settled tensions strongly held by an overwhelming number of Republicans and even most Americans. Given these facts, it seems unlikely Perry will face much of a challenge on the question of the consistency of his stance on these positions.

Data cited above comes from the Millennials, Religion, and Abortion Survey conducted between April 22, 2011 and May 8, 2011, among a random sample of 3,000 adults. The margin of sampling error for the general sample is +/- 2 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence interval. The report, topline questionnaire, and methodology can be found here.

Robert P. Jones
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  • Rubinesque

    Pfft. Who says Americans have to be rational and ideologically consistent?

  • chrisbrown12

    The Texas Governator is the Pro Death candidate for the TparT. cb

  • ChristopherWChase

    “Support for capital punishment is virtually identical to the general population among Americans who say abortion should be illegal (69 percent)….while Perry is out of step with the solid majority (56 percent) of Americans who say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, his support for capital punishment is widely shared.”

    I believe I understand the point (that among those who think abortion should be illegal, 69% support the DP), but the copystyle seems potentially confusing at first–the comparative quotes can be interpreted as 69% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal while 56% believe it should be legal. Is there a better way to clarify this so it doesn’t sound confusing?

  • jonahgibson

    Personally I think Perry’s positions point up the difference between stands taken for political expediency and stands taken because of deeply held (and well understood) moral conviction.

  • YEAL9

    Some bottom liners:

    o Bottom Line 1: The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods (see the Guttmacher Institute data as published on line) i.e. the pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and STDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the pill or condoms properly and/or use other methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and STDs.

    Bottom line 2-
    Currently, a perfect barrier system does not exist. Time to develop one! In the meantime, mono-masturbation or mutual masturbation are highly recommended for heterosexuals who need a contraceptive. Abstinence is another best-solution but obviously the sex drive typically vitiates this option although being biological would it not be able to develop a drug to temporarily eliminate said drive?

  • persiflage

    Other stats back this up – about 2/3rds of the US population support the death penalty, with a similar number supporting the pro-choice position on abortion.

    As the article makes clear, most fundamentalists of the Rick Perry school of social philosophy support the anti-aborion, pro-death penalty position – which is out of synch with the majority of voters. It also seems curious that men from the religious right serve as the anti-abortion spokespersons more often than not.

    There seems to be increasing evidence that Perry and other God-smacked fundamentalists of his stripe are most comfortable with the Old Testament, in spite of all the lip service paid to Jesus……who we might imagine was not so big on the death penalty, having been on the receving end – or so the story goes.

  • MarkFromOhio

    Tell me when you hear Perry or any other republican “Christian” quote the Sermon On the Mount, the centerpiece of their Saviour’s message. “Blessed are the poor”? I think NOT!

    The perversion of Jesus’s teachings that turn him into a gun-totin’ right-wing extremist resemble the distortions of Islam that occur among extreme Muslims. Perry and his ilk truly are the American Taliban.

  • rjdb84

    You are trying to point out a double standard but apparently miss the point that babies are innocent and didn’t ask to be concieved while most criminals on death row made a conscious decision to be criminals are are not innocent but have been judged to be guilty. Some for henious crimes against life and humanity–like murder–so murdering in the womb is OK and so is murdering later? That would be what pro abortion writers like this would makes us believe.

    This article is SO Washington Post. Your readers are sure to enjoy it.

  • persiflage

    ‘You are trying to point out a double standard but apparently miss the point that babies are innocent and didn’t ask to be concieved’

    You apparently missed the part where fetuses are not considered either babies or people in the eyes of the law until a certain gestation period has passed, and this is why abortions are legal.

    I agree that abortion can be viewed separately from the death penalty issue, but the point of the article was simply to demonstrate the predictability of how a certain segment of the population tend to view both in a certain way – time after time.

    There are plenty of folks that support both the pro-choice position, and the death penalty…..but that’s not what’s being discussed here.

  • persiflage

    ‘Perry chalked up the audience response to strong support for the death penalty, confidently concluding, “I think Americans understand justice.” ‘

    An interesting accomplishment to be touting as a qualifcation for the Presidency – your own record number of state executions (even besting GWB).
    Apparently he was speaking to a partcularly bloodthirsty lot there in Simi Valley.

  • theduke89

    It’s really very simple and amazingly consistent position, and I always marvel at the inability of liberals to understand it: It’s the difference between innocence and guilt. An pre-born child is innocent. A convicted murderer is in virtually every case, guilty of the most heinous sin.

    What is truly inconsistent and pathetically hypocritical is being pro-Abortion and anti-capital punishment. That is what most liberals and leftists believe in my experience. The inherent contradictions in this position are mind-boggling.

  • theduke89

    persiflage wrote: “You apparently missed the part where fetuses are not considered either babies or people in the eyes of the law until a certain gestation period has passed, and this is why abortions are legal.”

    This is a transparently expedient position and exists only to allow the widespread destruction of life in the womb to continue unabated. There is no scientific theory supports the idea that life begins on a certain day and it’s perfectly moral to murder a pre-born child on the day before that date. It’s the most corrupt intellectual argument I’ve ever seen in American politics and resembles more the thinking of Nazis than Christians. Viability of the fetus is a poor excuse to murder a fetus who in virtually every case would grow up to be a normal and hopefully productive human being.

  • Bearzee

    I want to reply to a number of the comments here, as well as to the article.
    1. WWJD? John 8:2-7. Mosaic Law says to stone adulteresses (as well as disobedient children and others); incidentally, so does Sharia Law, derived from Mosaic Law. Jesus prevented the Pharisees from stoning the adulteress. We are to follow His teaching. Jesus would execute no one.
    2. At the GOPTP debate in Tampa, we saw the pro-life Republicans cheer letting an uninsured person die. Remember Terry Schiavo? The Bush brothers and the GOP were crying that she should be kept alive in a vegetative state because we had a “culture of life”. Not long after she was in a coma, her insurance company dropped her. Her medical bills were first paid by winning a lawsuit, but then Medicaid eventually had to pay them, i.e. government paying to keep her alive. It seems that Tea Party Republicans suddenly would have her die instead.
    3. Life without parole is actually a deeper punishment than execution. The guy is guilty, you execute him, end of story, he does not feel compulsion for remorse. Leave him in a cell by himself for the rest of his life, it will eventually eat at him, as much as he’ll try to resist it.
    4. It is about power. As far as abortion doctors being murdered, a number of state legislatures have tried to legalize it and politicians in those states have openly praised the murderers of Tiller and others.
    5. Dr. Thistlethwaite speaks true about it being Roman and not Christian. Until Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, the merger of church and state was anathema to Christ-followers. A Christian nation would have been considered heretical.and blasphemous. Constantine Romanized Christianity; as the Church grew more powerful, it became more like the Pharisees. The Anabaptist movement reacted to this. The Reformation was about this as well, but never totally rid itself of the Roman influences.
    6. Today’s religious leaders have again returned to the

  • persiflage

    ‘Viability of the fetus is a poor excuse to murder a fetus who in virtually every case would grow up to be a normal and hopefully productive human being. ‘

    When and if you’re ever in a position to carry a fetus, you can make that determination. In that case, you would have to be the duchess.

    As far as Nazis go, I’d take a closer look at the ones that would force a woman to bear a child under threat of punishment. Now that is a truly corrupt state of mind…………and one generally found more among males.

    And again referring to the law of the land, you can’t ‘murder a fetus’.

  • ThomasBaum

    persiflage

    You wrote, “You apparently missed the part where fetuses are not considered either babies or people in the eyes of the law until a certain gestation period has passed, and this is why abortions are legal”

    Unless I have heard wrong, it seems that in some cases, that this “certain gestation period” extends until the baby completely clears the womb or have I heard wrong?

  • ThomasBaum

    persiflage

    It is your opinion that ” you can’t ‘murder a fetus’” but the reality is that one can legally kill a “fetus” since a “fetus” is living and growing.

    If a “fetus” lives and grows long enough this living and growing “fetus” then changes it’s word to “person” and one of these became you.

  • persiflage

    T. Baum, perhaps you’d rather prosecute women for choosing to terminate a pregnancy – what would Jesus do??

  • PhilyJimi

    Interesting, considering how many natural abortions happen each year. Was that a human life? Did it have a soul? Did the unborn child have a chance to exercise it’s freewill? Is it in heaven even thought it never had an opportunity to know Jesus and be saved? If there is an all powerful being/deity that controls everything then who is ultimately responsible for a natural abortion? Of if the mother was involved in a car accident and lost the child?

    Why is it okay some deity allows an abortion but if the abortion is done by choice then it is murder? And don’t give me any crap about that you know the mind of your deity because I can find million of other people out there that also claim to know the mind of their personal deity and all the stories are different. Also I do and will question the motivation behind all actions a deity takes, I haven’t been struck down by lighting (yet) for doing so nor am I worried about it.

    Why is it okay if a deity allows or performs an abortion but wrong if a woman chooses to abort? I don’t see how it can be argued both ways?

  • Secular1

    Rick Perry is just a blatantly opportunistic man. He is uniquely possessed not only without any moral compass but also without philosophical, nor intellectual, nor any other compass at all. The one who is campaigning to make Washington as irrelevant in our lives as possible, has indeed made Austin as intrusive in the Texans’ lives as possible. His executive order on HPV vaccine and his defense of his position on the state interest in HPV vaccination is totally in contradiction to the philosophical position taken by the conservatives (in my book that word is synonymous with moral bankruptcy in most cases). The champions of personal responsibility and parental rights, who scream bloody murder, whenever there is a legislation proposed to ensure the safety and well being of children these Neanderthals lineup to protest and demagogue the issue are willing to give charlatan a pass. These are the same folks who demagogue issuance of family planning information to adults and birth control advise, demagogue it as promoting promiscuity are silent about HPV vaccination. Except for that loon Bachman and perhaps the other crazy uncle from the attic Paul the remaining 5 jokers in the republican field had nothing to say about this issue, except take objection to the executive order. Ricky boy the texas miracle maker (RBTMM), puts forth the classic liberal argument when it comes to issue of children’s health he would always err on the side of protecting the children – where have we been hearing this argument before. I just wonder if RBTMM holds this view only when the Mercks of the world have a financial stake – with a cut for him, or in all cases. I guess RBTMM is all for dissemination of birth control and anti-STD information to protect the youngins lives. Each of the eight republican candidates is unmistakably motivated by bigotry, except for Herman Cain – who is just an useful fool, who drinks his Kool-aid by the jugs.