PUBLIC OPINION: Support for Death Penalty At Its Lowest in 40 Years
A recent Gallup poll found the lowest level of support for the death penalty in America since 1972. Gallup's October poll measured Americans' abstract support at 60%, a 20-percentage point decline from 1994, when 80% of respondents were in favor of the death penalty for those convicted of murder. Support for the death penalty differed sharply among those who identified themselves with a political party: 81% of Republicans supported the death penalty, while only 47% of Democrats and 60% of Independents favored it. However, support among all three groups has dropped in the last 25 years, with the Democrats’ support declining 28 percentage points since its peak in 1994. This poll measured the public’s support for capital punishment in theory, without any comparison to other punishments. When Gallup and other polls have offered respondents a choice of the proper punishment for murder - the death penalty or life in prison without parole - respondents are about evenly split, with less than 50% supporting the death penalty. Gallup's release noted that the decline in support may be linked to the issue of innocence, "The current era of lower support may be tied to death penalty moratoriums in several states beginning around 2000 after several death-row inmates were later proven innocent of the crimes of which they were convicted." In the past 10 years, the percentage of Americans who believe the death penalty is applied fairly has dropped from 60% to 52%.
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PUBLIC OPINION: Boston Residents Favor Life Without Parole for Suspect in Marathon Bombing
A recent poll sponsored by the Boston Globe found that a significant majority of Boston residents favor life without parole over the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bombing suspect. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of respondents supported a sentence of life without parole if Tsarnaev is convicted, compared with only 33% who favored the death penalty. Sixty-one (61) percent of Democrats and 49% of Republicans (a plurality) supported a sentence of life without parole. The option was endorsed by men and women, across all educational levels, and among white, black, and Hispanic respondents. The poll was conducted September 5−12 by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. Although the death penalty is not available under Massachusetts law, Tsarnaev is facing federal charges. No decision has been made yet on whether the government will seek the death penalty.
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Californians Moving Away From Death Penalty Support
In a recent op-ed, the co-author of a key study on the viability of California's death penalty analyzed the recent dramatic shift in public opinion on capital punishment in the state. According to Paula Mitchell, adjunct professor at Loyola of Los Angeles Law School, decades of polling showed about two-thirds of Californians supported the death penalty, but the 2012 referendum to repeal the law lost by just 4 percentage points (52%-48%). Moreover, in counties that used the death penalty the most, support for the death penalty was even lower. In Los Angeles County, which has more people on death row than any other American county, 54.5% of voters favored repeal. In Alameda County, ninth among all counties in death row inmates, 62.5% of the votes cast were for repeal. Mitchell said that this drop in support was due to several factors. California's death penalty, she said, "is expensive and structurally broken—probably beyond repair." She also pointed to unfairness in the system, particularly along racial lines: "In addition to concerns over the exorbitant costs associated with capital punishment and the potential for wrongful convictions—issues that were well publicized during the campaign to repeal last year—there are also ever-present concerns over the uneven application of death penalty." African Americans make up over 36% of California's death row, even though they constitute only 6% of the state population. Read full op-ed below.
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INTERNATIONAL: New Report on the Death Penalty in Malaysia
A new report by the London-based Death Penalty Project explores the use of mandatory death sentencing in Malaysia. In the U.S., the Supreme Court barred the use of mandatory death sentences in 1976, holding that judges and juries needed to consider the individual differences among defendants, out of respect for human diginity. (Woodson v. North Carolina, and other opinions). DPP's report found that the number of executions carried out in Malaysia has declined in the last decade even though there have been no major changes in law or reforms in the system. As part of the research, a poll was conducted to discern the public's support for mandatory death sentences. The poll found little public opposition to abolishing the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking and firearms offenses, though 56% of respondents still supported a mandatory death sentence for murder. Read full text of the report.
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PUBLIC OPINION: Strong Majority of North Carolinians Prefer Life Without Parole Over the Death Penalty
A recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling indicated a strong majority of North Carolina residents prefer replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole (LWOP), as long as some conditions are imposed. According to the survey, 68% of respondents support replacing the death penalty with LWOP if the offender had to work and pay restitution to the victim’s family. Sixty-three percent (63%) support repealing the death penalty if the money saved was redirected to effective crime fighting tools. And more than half (55%) of the respondents supported ending the death penalty if the money saved was redirected to solving cold cases and assisting victims of crime. Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, noted the change occurring on this issue: “The days when the death penalty enjoyed near-universal support are clearly over," he said. "Across the country, poll after poll has shown that. These results show that people in North Carolina are willing to consider alternatives to capital punishment.” Read full results of the survey.
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PUBLIC OPINION: 2012 Gallup Poll Shows Support for Death Penalty Remains Near 40-Year Low
A recent Gallup Poll measured Americans' abstract support for the death penalty at 63%, the second-lowest level of support for capital punishment since 1978, and a significant decline from 1994, when 80% of respondents were in favor of the death penalty. Gallup noted the results of the poll may have been affected by the fact that it was conducted a few days after the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. In 2011 Gallup found 61% in support of the death penalty, the lowest level in 40 years. When Gallup and other polls offer respondents a choice of the proper punishment for murder--the death penalty or life in prison without parole--the public is nearly evenly split on the question. Among the groups most supportive of the death penalty in this latest Gallup poll were conservatives, Republicans, men, older respondents, and those with a high school or less education. The poll was conducted December 19-22, 2012. The margin of error was +4 percentage points.
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