Support for the Death Penalty at Lowest Point in 40 Years

While most Americans still favor the death penalty for those convicted of murder, support for capital punishment is lower than it has been in 40 years, according to the Pew Research Center.

Today, 56 percent of Americans favor the death penalty, six points lower than the 62 percent of people who favored it back 2011. In 1996, support for the death penalty was at 78 percent, with only 18 percent opposing it.

Of the two major parties, Democrats have been the leading group opposing capital punishment over the past two decades. Right now, according to Pew, over 40 percent support the death penalty and 56 percent oppose. In 1996, 71 percent of Democrats were pro-death penalty while 25 percent opposed it.

Republicans, on the other hand, haven’t shifted much over the years in their opinions about capital punishment. Seventy-seven percent of GOPers support the death penalty, a decline from 87 percent in 1996. Over the same period, Independents’ support for the death penalty has dropped 22 points, from 79 percent to 57 percent.

When asked about the morality of capital punishment, 63 percent of those polled said it is morally justified when someone commits murder; 31 percent disagree, even when murder is committed.

Ironically, 71 percent of Americans believe there are some risks involved with sentencing someone to death and only 26 percent believe there are safeguards in place to prevent those risks from happening. What’s more, 61 percent of people don’t believe the death penalty deters serious crimes. Eighty-four percent of those who oppose the death penalty believe there’s a chance that an innocent person will be killed; 63 percent of death penalty supporters agree.

A majority of death penalty opponents (68 percent) say that minorities are more likely to be sentenced to death than whites for committing the same crimes; 42 percent of death supporters agree.

Seventy percent of Democrats say they believe minorities are more likely than whites to sentenced to death for the same crimes. Only 31 percent of Republicans agree.

Black people, at 34 percent, are least likely to support the death penalty when compared to white people (63 percent) and Hispanics (45 percent).

Between March 25 and 29, the Pew Research Center polled 1,500 adults about their opinions on the death penalty.


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