GALLUP POLL: Support for Death Penalty in U.S. Falls to a 45-Year Low

“Americans' support for the death penalty has dipped to a level not seen in 45 years,” according to the results of the 2017 Gallup poll released on October 26. Gallup reported that, in a nationwide survey of 1,028 adults polled October 5-11, 2017, 55% of Americans said they are "in favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder," down from a reported 60% in October 2016. The five percentage-point decline represented an 8% decrease in the level of support for the death penalty nationwide and, Gallup said, "continue[s] a trend toward diminished death penalty support" in the United States. This year's results reflected the lowest level of support for the death penalty in the U.S. since March 1972—just before the June 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Furman v. Georgia declared the nation's death-penalty laws unconstitutional—and was 25 percentage points below the peak of 80% of Americans who said in September 1994 that they supported in the death penalty. In September 2016, a Pew Research Center poll also measured support for the death penalty at the lowest level in 45 years, with 49% of Americans saying they supported the death penalty for persons convicted of murder. The 2017 Gallup results simultaneously reflect a continuing party-based divergence in views on the death penalty and a steep drop among Republicans in support for capital punishment. While 72% of Republicans say they favor the death penalty, as compared to 58% of Independents and 39% of Democrats, death-penalty support among Republicans fell by ten percentage points, from 82% just before the presidential election in October 2016. Death-penalty support has plummeted 26 percentage points among Democrats—a 40% decline—since 2002, when 65% told Gallup they favored capital punishment. Long-term death-penalty support has also declined among respondents identifying themselves as Independents, with respect to whom it has fallen ten percentage points since 2000, when Gallup measured it at 68%. Although support for capital punishment overall has declined significantly this century, 51% of Americans told Gallup that they believe that the death penalty is applied fairly—the same percentage as in 2000. A solid core of 39% believe the death penalty is not imposed enough—down 14 percentage points from May 2005, but roughly equal to the 38% who gave that response when Gallup asked that question in May 2001. The Gallup poll also reported opposition to the death penalty at 41%. The last time Gallup reported higher opposition to the death penalty was 51 years ago, in May 1966, when 47% of respondents said they opposed capital punishment. (Click here for enlarged graph.)

(J. Jones, "U.S. Death Penalty Support Lowest Since 1972," Gallup News Service, October 26, 2017; L. Saad, "Gallup Poll Social Series: Crime, Death Penalty Topline," Gallup News Service, October 26, 2017.) See Public Opinion.