Facts & Research

Public Opinion

Public opinion polls show that support for the death penalty is currently near historic lows after peaking in 1994 and declining over the last 25 years.

DPIC Report: Smart on Crime

DPIC Report: Smart on Crime

Reconsidering the Death Penalty in Time of Economic Crisis

Overview

In a democracy, the substance of the laws is determined by the people. Even the constitution can be changed through the democratic process. Public sentiment can be measured through polling, but it is also reflected in elections and referenda, both on a local and national level.

There is a long history of polls of asking the public whether they favor or oppose the death penalty for the crime of murder. The resultant responses might reflect the public’s philosophical or moral stance on the issue, but they do not measure opinion about the death penalty as it is actually practiced, which requires such information as the availability of alternative sentences, the risks of mistake and bias, and the costs associated with the practice.

At Issue

The death penalty is sometimes justified because the majority of poll respondents supports it in the abstract. The Supreme Court, in attempting to determine whether a punishment is cruel and unusual, asks whether the punishment comports with society’s “evolving standards of decency.” The Court has been reluctant to rely on opinion polls to measure these standards because poll results can vary widely depending on the polling firm and the specific wording of the questions asked. Instead, the Court has looked to the actions of state legislatures and the decisions of juries, prosecutors and governors, as reflecting public will. The myriad of disturbing facts about the death penalty has led to a sharp decline in its use and even to a lowering of support in the abstract poll question. Ultimately, the future of the death penalty will depend on whether it is retaining public support.

What DPIC Offers

DPIC has highlighted the results of many polls on the death penalty over many years, both on a national and state level. Some of these polls go into greater depth than those just asking the abstract question of support or opposition. DPIC has also commissioned its own polls, including surveys of those in law enforcement, and has issued reports on the results.



News & Developments


News

Aug 30, 2023

Former Pro-Death Penalty District Attorney Explains Why He Now Supports Abolition and Fears Political Promises to Expand Use of the Death Penalty

Former Denver Chief Deputy District Attorney Craig Silverman recent­ly wrote about why he changed his mind about sup­port­ing the death penal­ty and expressed new fears regard­ing its future use. His op-ed was pub­lished on August 29, 2023 in the Colorado Sun. Mr. Silverman writes that cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment was a promi­nent issue in his cam­paign for Denver District Attorney, and he him­self pros­e­cut­ed death penal­ty cas­es and pub­licly sup­port­ed its use. But he writes that he now has new­found sup­port for abol­ish­ing cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment” for rea­sons he char­ac­ter­izes as per­son­al.” 

Read More

News

Mar 11, 2024

OP-ED: Journalist Recalls Witnessing an Execution and Describes the Importance of Media Witnesses

In May 1990, Jonathan Eig, then a reporter for The New Orleans Times-Picayune, wit­nessed the elec­tric-chair-exe­cu­tion of Dalton Prejean at Angola State Penitentiary for the 1977 mur­der of a Louisiana state troop­er. Mr. Eig watched Mr. Prejean’s exe­cu­tion through an obser­va­tion win­dow, and report­ed see­ing his chest heave, his fists clench and his right wrist twist out­ward. A spark and a puff of smoke shot from the elec­trode attached to his left leg.” In the years fol­low­ing the exe­cu­tion, Mr. Eig regret­ted his deci­sion to wit­ness Mr. Prejean’s exe­cu­tion, writing…

Read More

News

Nov 06, 2023

POLL: For the First Time, More Americans Believe the Death Penalty Is Applied Unfairly in the United States

The Gallup Crime Survey has asked about the fair­ness of death penal­ty appli­ca­tion in the United States since 2000. For the first time, the October 2023 sur­vey reports that more Americans believe the death penal­ty is applied unfair­ly (50%) than fair­ly (47%). Between 2000 and 2015, 51%-61% of Americans said they thought cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment was applied fair­ly in the U.S., but this num­ber has been drop­ping since 2016. This year’s num­ber of 47% rep­re­sents a his­toric low in the his­to­ry of Gallup’s polling.

Read More

News

Dec 16, 2022

DPIC 2022 Year End Report: Commutation of Oregon Death Row Headlines U.S. Death-Penalty Decline in a Year Marred by Botched Executions

The death penal­ty con­tin­ued its long-term decline in the U.S. in 2022, as Oregon com­mut­ed its death row and new death sen­tences and pub­lic sup­port for the death penal­ty remained near 50-year lows. But per­haps more dra­mat­i­cal­ly than any­thing else, the for­ti­eth anniver­sary of lethal injec­tion could be known as the Year of the Botched Execution,” the Death Penalty Information Center said in its 2022 Year End Report.

Read More

News

Dec 06, 2022

Midterm Elections: Moratorium Supporters, Reform Prosecutors Post Gains Despite Massive Campaign Efforts to Tie Reformers to Surge in Violent Crime

In a year that fea­tured mas­sive cam­paign adver­tis­ing attempt­ing to por­tray legal reform­ers as respon­si­ble for increas­es in vio­lent crime, can­di­dates com­mit­ted to crim­i­nal legal reform or who promised to con­tin­ue statewide mora­to­ria on exe­cu­tions post­ed key elec­tion wins in the 2022 midterm elec­tions. Defying a pre-elec­tion nar­ra­tive fore­cast­ing a back­lash against pro­gres­sive pros­e­cu­tors and con­ven­tion­al wis­dom that fear of crime dri­ves polit­i­cal out­comes, reform pros­e­cu­tors were re-elect­ed to office and gained new footholds in coun­ties across the country.

Read More

News

Jun 16, 2022

Percentage of Americans Who View the Death Penalty as Morally Acceptable Remains Near Record Low

The per­cent­age of Americans who find the death penal­ty moral­ly accept­able remains near a record low, accord­ing to a new poll released by the Gallup orga­ni­za­tion on June 9, 2022. 55% of respon­dents to Gallup’s annu­al Values and Beliefs Survey told Gallup that they con­sid­er the death penal­ty moral­ly accept­able, frac­tion­al­ly above the record low of 54% in the orga­ni­za­tion’s 2020 sur­vey. The num­ber match­es the 55% lev­el of accept­abil­i­ty report­ed in the 2021 Values and Beliefs survey.

Read More