Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
A whopping 85% of New Mexicans support changing the law to make it easier for judges to hold individuals who have been charged with certain violent crimes in jail until trial, according to a Journal Poll.
While there are slight variations across political parties, regions of the state and education levels, in nearly every demographic more than 80% of respondents said they supported a change.
“Rarely do you see numbers where 85% of the people supports something and only 4% oppose on questions that we typically ask in a Journal Poll,” said Brian Sanderoff, the president of Research & Polling Inc., which conducted the polling. “And so we’re seeing just very significant, very large support levels for this change in the law, regardless of gender, ethnicity, party, etc.”
In recent years proposed changes have not gotten the traction needed to become law.
During the last legislative session high-profile proposals to reshape the pretrial detention system failed. Critics said they were not convinced the proposed changes would address crime and questioned their constitutionality.
Several studies and reports, including one by the bipartisan, bicameral Legislative Finance Committee, have found that the proposals that were put forward would have little impact on reducing violent crime.
A study by the Santa Fe Institute and the University of New Mexico Institute for Social Research released this week found that under House Bill 5 – which was proposed during the 2022 legislative session – an additional 2,403 people would have been held in jail.
In reality, those people were released and – while awaiting trial – 96% were not charged with any new violent crimes and 85% were not charged with any new crimes, the study found.
Sanderoff said the polling shows that voters want a change, but it doesn’t address how the change should be done.
“Likely voters are clearly expressing some frustration regarding the high crime rate,” he said. “It would still be up to the governor and the Legislature to address the public’s concern in an effective and constitutional manner.”
While upward of 75% of respondents across all demographics supported making it easier for judges to hold certain individuals, political leanings do affect people’s beliefs.
For instance, 93% of those who identified as conservative said they would support changing the law compared to 76% of those who identified as liberal and 87% who identified as moderate.
Among those who – if the gubernatorial election were held today – would vote for incumbent Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, 81% supported changing the law compared to 90% who would vote for Mark Ronchetti, a Republican, and 97% of those who would vote for Karen Bedonie, a Libertarian.
“Sometimes Democrats are more reluctant to pass tough on crime legislation,” Sanderoff said. “But during the last session, the governor was right behind legislation such as this. It’s no surprise given the fact that even her supporters support some changes in the law.”
Causes of crime
What’s less clear-cut is what people believe causes New Mexico’s high crime rate.
The Journal Poll asked an open-ended question and received 57 answers ranging from “Trump” to “Biden” to “police hands tied” to “racial injustice.” Respondents were allowed to give up to three answers each.
Among those polled, 31% said drugs were the leading cause of the high crime rate. In categories that garnered more than 10% of responses, 15% said poverty, 15% said releasing defendants ahead of trial, 14% said weak sentences by judges, 13% said homelessness and 12% said a weak or broken criminal justice system.
“Seven out of the 10 most frequently mentioned issues among likely voters deal with societal issues, challenges that we face regarding drug abuse, poverty, economy, homelessness, mental illness,” Sanderoff said. “And three of the 10 are dealing more with criminal justice issues.”
He said Republican voters were more likely to mention problems in the criminal justice system while Democrats were more likely to mention societal issues.
“When you look at the same thing by candidate preference notice that Michelle Lujan Grisham supporters are nearly twice as likely to mention poverty than Ronchetti supporters,” Sanderoff said.
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 518 voters who cast ballots in the 2018 and/or 2020 general election and who said they are likely to vote in the upcoming election.
The poll was conducted from Aug. 19 through Aug. 25. The voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
In the poll, respondents were read a list of five issues facing New Mexico and asked to say whether they thought each one was a “very serious problem, somewhat serious problem, minor problem, or no problem at all.”
All interviews were conducted by live, professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone.
Both cellphone numbers (79%) and landlines (21%) of proven general election voters were used.