New public opinion polls show that, consistent with national trends, support for the death penalty is declining in the conservative strongholds of Utah and Oklahoma.

A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll released on October 27, 2021 reported that 51% of Utah voters surveyed said they “oppose eliminating the death penalty” as a sentencing option. By contrast, in 2010, 79% of Utah voters said that they favored the death penalty.

A public opinion poll by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates, conducted October 11–15 and released October 27, one day prior to the state’s October 28 botched execution of John Grant, reported that 64% of Oklahomans said they favored the death penalty. While support for the death penalty remained strong, the results reflected a continuing downward trend in the state. 68% of respondents in an October 2015 Cole Hargrave poll had said they supported the death penalty and 74% of respondents to a June 2014 Tulsa World poll conducted by the Sooner Poll said they supported capital punishment.

Responses to polling questions about the death penalty vary significantly depending upon the wording of the questions asked. At the same time Cole Hargrave reported in October 2015 that more than two-thirds of Oklahomans supported the death penalty in the abstract, a November 2015 Sooner Poll found that 52.4% of Oklahomans would support abolishing capital punishment if the state replaced the death penalty with the alternative sanction of life without parole, plus restitution.

The Utah poll was taken against the backdrop of a state legislative attempt set for the 2022 legislative session to repeal the Utah’s death penalty and replace it with a sentence of 45 years to life. Connor Boyack, President of the Utah-based libertarian think-tank the Libertas Institute, called the decline in support for the death penalty among Utahns “significant.” He told the Deseret News that, as phrased, the poll question understates the likely support for repealing and replacing the state’s death penalty.

“I feel like the question doesn’t accurately represent what’s being done in this legislation,” Boyack said. “Rep. (Lowry) Snow is not simply doing away with the death penalty and leaving nothing in its place. His is an effort to replace it with something that will allow for aggravated murders to have a harsher penalty ….”

Death-Penalty Support Declining Nationwide

Public opinion polling across the country has documented a significant decline in support for capital punishment. An analysis by University of North Carolina political science professor Frank R. Baumgartner of more than a half-century of public opinion polls on the death penalty showed that “Americans support capital punishment less than they have at any time since the modern death penalty system was established in 1976.” The 2020 annual Gallup poll on Americans’ attitudes about the capital punishment, released in November 2020, found that 55% of respondents said they supported the death penalty — the lowest level of support reported in a half-century. In October 2019, in response to a differently framed question, a record 60% of Americans favored life imprisonment over the death penalty.

The decline in death penalty support in Oklahoma mirrors the trend seen in Texas. While a significant majority of Texans support the death penalty in the abstract, an April 2021 survey conducted by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune showed that support for the death penalty fell from 75% in 2015 to 63% in 2021.

The Results from the New Polls

The Cole Hargrave Oklahoma poll reported that 64% of Oklahomans said they favor the death penalty with 23% saying they oppose it. The poll found significant partisan differences, with 80% of Republicans sayong they support the death penalty while 9% said they oppose it. Among Oklahoma Democrats, 44% expressed support for capital punishment, with 40% opposed. The poll also found significant gender and geographic differences in opinion. 72% of male Oklahoma voters said they favored the death penalty while 18% were opposed. By contrast, 56% of women said they favored the death penalty while 28% were opposed. 71% of rural Oklahomans favored the death penalty, against 15% who opposed it. Voters in Oklahoma metropolitan centers favored capital punishment by a 57% to 31% margin.

The Utah poll, conducted between October 14–21, 2021 by the polling firm Dan Jones & Associates, told 746 Utah voters “Utah lawmakers will consider a bill to do away with the death penalty as a sentencing option in future cases” and asked them, “Do you support or oppose eliminating the death penalty.” 40% of respondents said they supported eliminating the death penalty, 51% said they don’t support its elimination, and 8% said they don’t know. The poll data was released the same day the Utah County Commission — the legislative body for one of the most conservative counties in the state — voted to support the bill to repeal and replace Utah’s death penalty.

The Deseret News reported that the effort to repeal and replace the death penalty “is gaining steam” as death penalty support continues to decline. Boyack said, “[t]he decreasing public support for the death penalty shows what we’ve seen with elected officials in recent years, and that is this: The more people learn about the death penalty, the less they support it … I think the trend is indicative of the fact that truth is on our side.”


Katie McKellar, New poll reveals sup­port for the death penal­ty is fad­ing in Utah, Deseret News, October 27, 2021; Chris Casteel, Poll: Oklahomans con­tin­ue to strong­ly sup­port cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment, The Oklahoman, October 28, 2021; Pat McFerron, Oklahomans Strongly Support Death Penalty, Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates, October 272021.

Dan Jones & Associates has a B rat­ing from the polling analy­sis web­site FiveThirtyEight. Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates has a B/​C rat­ing from FiveThirtyEight.