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%.

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PUBLIC OPINION: New Poll Shows California Voters Support Life Without Parole Over Death Penalty

The recent Field Poll conducted in California indicated that more voters now prefer life without the possibility of parole instead of the death penalty for convicted murderers. For the first time since the poll began asking the question over a decade ago, more voters (48%) say they would prefer that someone convicted of first-degree murder be sentenced to life without parole than the death penalty (40%). Eleven years ago, only 37% of respondents favored the life sentence and 44% preferred the death penalty, a 15 point change in the spread. Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said that voters are far more skeptical of the death penalty now than they were twenty years ago: "There has been a change in attitude," he said. "Twenty-two years ago, the death penalty side argument prevailed by a large majority - now voters are divided in their opinions on many statements, including the cost of death versus life in prison, does a life sentence actually guarantee they will stay in prison, whether innocent people are executed, and their views of how it is administered to the ethnic population."  A recent study in California found that maintaining the death penalty costs taxpayers $184 million a year more than if the state's condemned killers were kept in prison for life.

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PUBLIC OPINION: Californians Strongly Support Commuting All Death Sentences to Save Money

A recent poll conducted by David Binder Research found strong support for commuting all of the sentences of California's 712 death row inmates to life in prison without parole and requring them to pay restitution to the victims' families. Of the 800 voters surveyed, 63% supported the commutations, which would save the state $1 billion over five years. California currently faces a $13 billion budget gap. Voters from across the political spectrum favored the idea of commuting all the state's death sentences and putting the money saved towards public education and law enforcement. Support was highest among independents (70%), followed by Democrats at 64% and Republicans at 58%. The proposal was also popular throughout the state, with Bay Area voters expressing the most support (70%).

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