Three quarters of Dallas, Texas voters say they prefer some version of life imprisonment over the death penalty for people convicted of first-degree murder, a new poll has found.

The poll, which was conducted on June 16–17, 2021 by the independent polling firm, Public Policy Polling (PPP), found broad support for sweeping changes in death-penalty policy in a county that is responsible for the second most executions in the United States since capital punishment resumed in the 1970s. By wide margins, Dallas voters said they believed the county’s death penalty is affected by racial bias and that innocent people have been convicted and sentenced to death. More than 80% said they would support the Dallas District Attorney’s office reviewing the cases of the 19 people currently on death row from the county “to ensure accuracy and fairness.” Nearly two-thirds said they would support the Dallas D.A.’s office “pledg[ing] not to seek any new death sentences.”

Given a choice between life without parole, a life sentence with parole eligibility after 40 years, a life sentence with parole eligibility after 20 years, or the death penalty as possible punishments for first-degree murder, 75% of respondents chose some version of a life sentence (click here to enlarge graphic). A plurality (29%) favored life with the possibility of parole after 40 years, followed by life without parole (26%), and life with the possibility of parole after 20 years (20%). Only 14% of respondents said they preferred the death penalty. Twelve percent were undecided.

The poll is the second in just over a year to show a sea change in views on the death penalty in Texas’s most prolific death-sentencing counties. According to the 2020 Houston Area Survey conducted by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, a record-low 20% of Houstonians preferred the death penalty for murder. Houston is the county seat of Harris County, which has executed more prisoners than any other county in the U.S.

“These results affirm what we’ve observed for the past decade,” said Kristin Houlé Cuellar, the Executive Director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP), which commissioned the poll. “Texans of all political persuasions are moving away from the death penalty at a remarkable rate.”

In a press release accompanying the release of the survey results, TCADP characterized the preference for the death penalty over the life sentencing alternatives as “noticeably low,” even among demographic and political groups “that have historically supported capital punishment.” TCADP did not release the raw data containing the results of the poll by demographic and political subgroups, but the press release indicated that 26% of Republicans, 15% of those older than 65, 24% of white voters, 20% of Protestants, and 18% of those with some college education but who did not finish preferred the death penalty over life sentencing alternatives. “Even among Trump voters,” Houlé Cuellar said, “support for capital punishment was notably low, with only 31% saying they preferred the death penalty over alternatives.”

Survey respondents expressed serious concerns about the way that the death penalty is administered in Dallas County. By a nearly 4 to 1 margin, Dallas voters said they believed that it was likely “that an innocent person has been convicted and sentenced to death in Dallas County.” 69% of respondents said it was very likely or somewhat likely that an innocent person had been sentenced to death, while 18% said it was very unlikely or somewhat unlikely to have occurred. An identical percentage said they believed that it is likely “that racial bias affects whether or not a person will receive a death sentence in Dallas County,” compared to 20% who said it was unlikely that race had affected death sentences. Asked to name their biggest concern about using the death penalty, 64% of respondents said executing the innocent, 13% pointed to inequities in its application, and 4% each pointed to its high cost and that it does not deter crime. 10 percent listed other concerns and 4% said they weren’t sure.

PPP also surveyed Dallas voters on the county’s policies towards the death penalty. Asked their views on whether the Dallas County District Attorney should pledge not seek any new death sentences, 63% of poll respondents said they would support such a pledge. Only 26% said they would oppose it. By an overwhelming 83% to 8% margin, poll respondents said they would support the Dallas District Attorney reviewing the cases of the 19 individuals on death row in Dallas to ensure integrity and fairness.

“Voters in Dallas County are sending a strong message that they value fairness and accuracy in the criminal legal system,” Houlé Cuellar said.

Public Policy Polling is a national polling firm based in Raleigh, North Carolina. It has an A- rating for accuracy and methodology from FiveThirtyEight.


Three-quar­ters of Dallas vot­ers pre­fer alter­na­tives to the death penal­ty, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, June 24, 2021; Public Policy Polling, Dallas County Survey Results, June 16 – 172021.

Graphic by Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.