PUBLIC OPINION: Gallup Poll Reports Lowest Support for Death Penalty in Nearly 40 Years

Recent polls conducted by Gallup and CNN indicate Americans' support for the death penalty is continuing to decline.  According to Gallup's 2011 poll, the percentage of Americans approving the death penalty as a punishment for murder dropped to its lowest level in 39 years.  Only 61% supported capital punishment in theory, down from 64% last year and from 80% support in 1994. This is the lowest level of support since 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Furman v. Georgia voided death penalty statutes across the country.  Opposition to the death penalty (35%) in this recent poll reached a 39-year high. The Gallup poll also showed an increase from last year in those who believe the death penalty is applied too often or unfairly.  Support for the death penalty dropped compared to last year among both Republicans and Democrats.  This year, among Democrats (or those leaning that way) more opposed the death penalty than supported it, a reverse from a year ago.  A recent CNN poll (conducted by ORC International) showed that when given a choice of sentences between life in prison without parole or the death penalty for the crime of murder, more Americans (50%) would opt for the life sentence than for death (48%). Seven years ago, the majority (56%) chose the death penalty over the life-without parole sentence. In CNN's recent poll, the number of Americans who believe that at least one person in the past five years has been executed for a crime that he or she did not commit increased to 72%.

(F. Newport, "In U.S., Support for Death Penalty Falls to 39-Year Low," Gallup, October 13, 2011;  "CNN Poll: Number who prefer death penalty on decline," CNN, October 12, 2011).  Results for the Gallup poll were based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 6-9, with a random sample of 1,005 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.  The sampling error is ±4 percentage points.  The CNN poll was conducted from September 23-25 among 1,010 adults who were questioned by telephone. It has a sampling error of +3 percentage points.  See Public Opinion and DPIC's own poll conducted by Lake Research Partners in 2010, showing strong support for alternative sentences over the death penalty.