Death Penalty

Death Penalty Support Drops Below 50 Percent For First Time Since 1971

But capital punishment may be making a comeback in a number of states.


Coming and going
Florida Department of Corrections/Doug Smith/Wikimedia Commons

Support for the death penalty among Americans has dropped below 50 percent for the first time in 45 years, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center.

Favorable views of capital punishment reached their high point at 80 percent in 1994 (the same year President Bill Clinon signed the Violent Crime Control Act, also known as "the crime bill"), but have been trending downward ever since. 34 percent of Democrats and 44 percent of independents continue to support the death penalty, with Republicans remaining the most staunch supporters at 72 percent. However, even GOP support has dropped in recent years.

Support for death penalty continues to fall

The news on national attitudes about the death penalty comes at a time when the status of a number of states' laws on executions are in flux. In Ohio, which last executed someone in January 2014 via lethal injection where the condemned took 26 minutes to die and "struggled and gasped audibly for air," Attorney General Mike DiWine has indicated the state intends to resume carrying out executions next year, according to Buzzfeed.

New Mexico's Republican Governor Susana Martinez has decided to make reinstating the death penalty an issue in her state's ongoing legislative election cycle, while in California, voters will soon decide on two propositions regarding the future capital punishment in the Golden State.

Proposition 66 will impose stricter limits and deadlines on prisoners' ability to file appeals, and according to the Los Angeles Times, also "requires attorneys appointed to the cases of indigent defendants who take non-capital appeals to accept death penalty appeals, and it exempts prison officials from the state's regulatory process for developing execution drugs." Another bill, Proposition 62, would end the death penalty in California and replace it with life without parole. Recent polls indicate the anti-death penalty proposition is likely to fail at the ballot box.

The Death Penalty Information Center notes that for the eighth consecutive year, the number of executions has declined nationwide to just 15 to date in 2016. 98 prisoners were executed in 1998.

Watch Reason TV's doc "The Battle for Death Penalty Transparency" below: