Americans clearly want those convicted of murdering a child to get severe punishment, as a solid majority favors making the death penalty mandatory in such cases.

In the latest FOX News nationwide poll conducted by the research firm Opinion Dynamics, fully 71 percent of Americans say they favor making the death penalty mandatory for anyone found guilty of murdering a child. A small minority opposes mandatory death penalty sentences (17 percent) and a few Americans say it depends on the circumstances of the case (8 percent).

Men are slightly more likely than women to favor imposing the death penalty in child predator cases (74 percent of men are in favor compared to 69 percent of women), and Republicans are stronger in their endorsement with 78 percent in favor compared to 65 percent of Democrats.

"These numbers are vivid testimony to the outrage Americans feel toward those who would murder children. These cases are viewed as special circumstances that clearly transcend traditional support patterns on the death penalty," stated Ernest Paicopolos, a principal of Opinion Dynamics.

News coverage has been filled recently with reports of young children like Samantha Runnion and Cassandra Williamson being snatched and murdered. More than half of Americans think the media coverage about abducted children has been responsible (56 percent) while one-third see it as sensationalized.

Even with all the media attention to these horrific cases, fewer than half (47 percent) say they have noticed people in their community actively keeping a closer watch on neighborhood children and another 41 percent say they haven’t noticed friends and neighbors watching the kids more carefully.

Polling was conducted by telephone July 23-24, 2002 in the evenings. The sample is 900 registered voters nationwide with a margin of error of ± 3 percentage points.

1. Do you think the recent news coverage about missing and abducted children has been responsible or has the coverage been sensationalized?

1. Responsible 56%
2. Sensationalized 33
3. (Not sure) 11

2. Do you favor or oppose making the death penalty mandatory for anyone found guilty of abducting and murdering a child?

1. Favor 71%
2. Oppose 17
3. (Depends) 8
4. (Not sure) 4

3. Have you noticed friends and neighbors in your community actively keeping a closer watch on the children in the neighborhood?

1. Yes 47%
2. No 41
3. (Not sure) 12