Gallup Poll: Record-Low Percentage of Americans Now Find Death Penalty Morally Acceptable

The percentage of Americans who consider the death penalty to be morally acceptable has fallen to a record-low, a new national poll by the Gallup organization has found.

According to the 2020 Gallup Values and Beliefs poll, released on June 23, 2020, 54% of U.S. adults now say the death penalty is morally acceptable. (Click here to see history of poll results.) That number represents a six-percentage-point decline over the course of the last year and is the lowest in the 20-year history of the poll. The results are 17 percentage points below the 71% of respondents who said in 2006 that the death penalty was morally acceptable.

Conversely, the percentage of Americans who said the death penalty is morally wrong reached a record high at 40%.

Gallup also measured the moral acceptability of the death penalty by political ideology. The percentages of self-reported moderates and liberals who said the death penalty was morally acceptable — 56% and 37%, respectively — both were the lowest recorded since the poll began in 2001. 67% of conservatives said they consider the death penalty to be morally acceptable. Belief in the acceptability of capital punishment was down significantly among all ideological groups since 2006, when endorsement of the moral acceptability of the death penalty was at its zenith. Since then, the number of conservatives and moderates who find the death penalty morally acceptable has declined by 12 percentage points, each. The number of liberals endorsing the moral acceptability of capital punishment has fallen by 22 percentage points during that period.

Gallup Research Consultant Megan Brenan said that the results of the organization’s 2020 Values and Beliefs poll are “in line with [Gallup] polling last fall that showed decreased public support for the death penalty and a record-high preference for life imprisonment over the death penalty as a better punishment for murder.”

The organization’s October 2019 national death penalty poll reported that 56% of U.S. adults favored capital punishment, the second lowest level of support for the death penalty in 47 years. Sixty percent of U.S. adults who were asked to choose whether the death penalty or life without possibility of parole “is the better penalty for murder” chose the life-sentencing option. It was the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 1985 that a majority of respondents said they preferred life.