Many Americans Say Drug Sentencing Is Too Harsh

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 07:  U.S. President Barack Obama speaks while participating in a roundtable discussion on the impacts
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 07: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks while participating in a roundtable discussion on the impacts of climate change on public health at Howard University in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. President Obama is warning that climate change will start affecting AmericansÕ health in the near future and heÕs recruiting top technology companies to help prepare the nationÕs health systems. (PHoto by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images)

Americans are generally supportive of President Barack Obama's recent decision to commute the sentences of 22 prisoners serving long prison terms for non-violent drug offenses, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds.

Forty-six percent of respondents said they approve of the commutations, which were granted to inmates who'd been sentenced to jail for intent to distribute an illegal drug. Just 23 percent of respondents said they disapprove, with the rest undecided.

The commutations haven't received widespread public attention. Only 7 percent of respondents said they've heard a lot about the story, and a plurality said they don't have an opinion on how the president has handled drug policy more broadly. But there's a general consensus that drug sentencing may be overly punitive.

Just 14 percent of HuffPost/YouGov respondents said they think the prison sentences given for non-violent drug crimes are typically too lenient. Another 40 percent said the sentences are too harsh, and a quarter of respondents said they're about right.

One in four respondents said that courts should be able to sentence a person to life in prison without the possibility of parole if that person has repeated convictions for drug possession. More than half of respondents, however, said it shouldn't be possible to do that. The rest were unsure.

Drug sentencing reform has seen some degree of bipartisan support in Washington. While Americans are split along the usual partisan lines on Obama's decision, support for harsh drug sentences is relatively muted in both parties. Sixty-one percent of Democrats, and a 44 percent plurality of Republicans, say that people shouldn't be given life sentences for drug possession. While Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to say that sentences are too harsh, fewer than 20 percent of people in either party think they're too lenient.

While the percentage of Americans who say sentences are too harsh has changed little in the past two years, the percentage saying they're too lenient has dropped by 9 points. In 2013, 31 percent of Republicans thought sentences were too lenient, whereas today, just 16 percent do. The share of Democrats saying sentences are too harsh, meanwhile, has risen by 7 points.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted April 1-3 among U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the poll's methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov's reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.



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