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January 10, 2013

Latest Gallup poll shows uptick in public support for the death penalty

DP trendsDespite a sustained political campaign against the death penalty in California and despite repeal of the death penalty in Connecticut and talk of repeal in other states, the latest Gallup poll on public attitudes concerning the death penalty reveals a slight uptick in public support for capital punishment circa the end of 2012.  This Gallup report on its polling, which is headlined "U.S. Death Penalty Support Stable at 63%: Decade-long decline in support after 2001 seen mostly among Democrats," sensibly notes that the latest numbers resulted from polling not long after the Newtown massacre and usefully highlights the long-term stability in many of the polling numbers on this issue over the last decade. Here are excerpts from the Gallup discussion of its polling data:

Americans' support for the death penalty as punishment for murder has plateaued in the low 60s in recent years, after several years in which support was diminishing. Sixty-three percent now favor the death penalty as the punishment for murder, similar to 61% in 2011 and 64% in 2010.

Gallup first asked Americans for their views on the death penalty using this question in 1936, and has asked it at least annually since 1999. The latest results come from a Dec. 19-22, 2012, USA Today/Gallup survey, conducted in the first few days after the Newtown, Conn., school shooting massacre.

Although views on the death penalty have been fairly static since 2010, support has been gradually diminishing since the high point in 1994, when 80% were in favor. By 2001, roughly two-thirds were in favor, and since then it has edged closer to 60%.

The death penalty is not relevant in the Newtown case, given that the lone gunman took his own life after his rampage; however, the tragedy could have influenced Americans' thoughts about capital punishment and may be a reason support for it held steady this year, rather than declining any further....

Despite the moral nature of the death penalty as a political issue, with teachings on it differing among the various faiths, Gallup finds virtually no difference in support for it on the basis of respondents' religious background. Two-thirds of Protestants and Catholics, alike, are in favor of the death penalty as a punishment for murder, as are at least six in 10 adults regardless of whether they attend church weekly, monthly, or less often. Only among those who say they have no religious preference, which would include atheists and agnostics, is there a difference, with a slightly smaller 56% in favor of the death penalty.

There are, however, sharp differences in views about capital punishment by gun ownership. Those who report personally owning a gun are much more likely than those who do not have a gun to favor the death penalty: 80% vs. 55%.

Gallup's annual measurement of death penalty views since 2001 shows that support for it has declined more among young adults (aged 18 to 34) than among those 55 and older, and more among men than among women. Additionally, the trend differs by party ID, with support dropping most precipitously among Democrats, from 59% in 2001 to 51% today....

Americans' support for the death penalty has varied widely over the 77 years Gallup has measured it, and now stands at 63%, which is about average for the full trend. Gallup's initial reading in 1936 found 59% in favor, but support then dipped well below 50% at points during the 1960s, only to surge above 70% in the 1980s. Support remained high through the first part of this century, but has since waned, possibly relating to several states recently imposing moratoriums on executions or abolishing their death penalty statutes altogether.

The future course of public support for the death penalty may depend as much on the impact of unforeseen tragedies such as the Oklahoma City bombing or Newtown shootings, as it does on political campaigns by death penalty supporters and opponents. However, for now, views appear to be at a standstill, with just over six in 10 Americans in favor, essentially unchanged since 2010.

January 10, 2013 at 04:15 PM | Permalink

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