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Majority Say Marathon Bombing Changed Boston

THURSDAY, APRIL 10, 2014 - 11:01 PM Polling Institute

Of those seeing change, many say it is for the better, survey finds

As the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing approaches, a majority of residents in the state say the bombing changed the city of Boston in a lasting way, according to the latest statewide survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute.

The telephone survey of 477 adults in Massachusetts, conducted Match 31 through April 7, found that 73 percent of those surveyed said the bombing has changed Boston, while 24 percent said the city has not changed and three percent said they did not know. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Of those who said the attack had altered the city, 62 percent said the change was for the better, 20 percent said the change was for the worse, and 14 percent said the change was for both better and worse. Four percent said they did not know.

Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University, said the survey did not ask respondents to elaborate on why they thought changes were for the better or worse. But respondents frequently volunteered explanations for their answers.

Vercellotti said that, in listening to interviews at random for quality control purposes during the eight days of data collection, he noticed that respondents who referred to changes for the better tended to mention the surge in civic pride and unity that followed the attack. Those who cited changes for the worse tended to refer to the human suffering that resulted from the bombing or a lingering sense of insecurity.

“These are just anecdotal observations, but they give some insight into opinions and feelings that are still keenly felt as we near the first anniversary of the bombing,” Vercellotti said.

The attack on April 15, 2013 near the finish line of the Boston Marathon killed three people and injured more than 200 others. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev faces trial on charges that he and his brother set off the bombs. Tsarnaev’s older brother, Tamerlan, died following a shootout with police a few days after the bombing.

Perceptions that the bombing changed Boston in lasting ways varied somewhat by gender and age, with women and younger respondents ages 18 to 39 offering the response more often than men and older respondents. There also was regional variation, with 81 percent of respondents on the North and South Shores, 80 percent in Central Massachusetts and 70 percent in Western Massachusetts pointing to lasting changes. The same was true for 66 percent of residents in Boston and surrounding suburbs.

Looking ahead to this year’s Boston Marathon on April 21, the survey found that 53 percent of adults said they are very confident and 38 percent said they are somewhat confident that law enforcement agencies can keep this year’s event safe from violence.

Men were more likely than women to say they were very confident (56 percent to 51 percent), and confidence also increased with age and education. Only 47 percent of respondents ages 18 to 39 said they were very confident, compared to 65 percent of adults ages 65 and older. Forty-three percent of adults with a high school diploma or less said they were very confident, compared to 59 percent of college graduates.

Residents of Boston and surrounding areas also were slightly more likely to express confidence than residents living in other parts of the state. Fifty-nine percent of adults living in Boston and nearby suburbs said they were very confident, while the figure ranged from 50 to 52 percent for Western and Central Massachusetts and the North and South Shores.

The survey also found the state nearly evenly divided over the type of penalty Tsarnaev should face if he is convicted in the bombing case. Forty-eight percent of survey respondents said he should receive life in prison with no chance of parole, while 45 percent said he should face the death penalty. Six percent said they did not know, and one percent declined to answer the question.

Views on the possible penalties varied by political partisanship, age, and region. The sample included 424 adults who said they were registered to vote. Among those voters, 61 percent of Republicans said Tsarnaev should receive the death penalty if convicted, compared to 51 percent of unenrolled voters and 21 percent of Democrats.

About half of survey respondents ages 18 to 39 said a conviction should bring the death penalty, but the figure declined as age increased, with only 33 percent of adults ages 65 and older giving the same response.

Nearly two-thirds of adults in Central Massachusetts said Tsarnaev should face the death penalty if convicted, compared to 47 percent of respondents in Western Massachusetts, and 44 percent of those living on the North and South Shores. Support for the death penalty in the event of a conviction was lowest in Boston and surrounding suburbs, where, only 39 percent offered that response, compared to 51 percent who said a conviction should bring a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole.

Established in 2005, the Western New England University Polling Institute conducts research on issues of importance to Massachusetts and the region. The Institute provides the University’s faculty and students with opportunities to participate in public opinion research.