Sixty-one percent of Americans approve of using the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, down from 64% last year. This is the lowest level of support since 1972, the year the Supreme Court voided all existing state death penalty laws in Furman v. Georgia.
Gallup first asked about use of the death penalty in murder cases in 1936. At that time, 59% of Americans supported it and 38% opposed it. Americans' views on the death penalty have varied significantly over the 75 years since, including a period from the late 1950s to the early 1970s when less than a majority of Americans favored it. Support climbed to its highest levels from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, including the all-time high of 80% who favored the death penalty in 1994. Since then, support has gradually declined; this year's measure of 61% marks a 19-percentage-point drop over the past 17 years, and a 3-point drop from last year's measure.
The Oct. 6-9 poll was conducted shortly after the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, which generated widespread protests and extensive news coverage. This could help explain the slight drop in support for the death penalty this year. However, there have been high-profile executions in the news in previous years without concomitant drops in death penalty support, making it less clear that such events have a direct impact on attitudes.
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Thursday, October 13, 2011
The Death Penalty
Our chapter on public opinion discusses sentiment toward the death penalty. Gallup reports: