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March 18, 2008

Some new poll numbers on the death penalty

This press release reports on some new national poll numbers concerning American attitudes concerning the death penalty.  Here are some of the interesting highlights:

Over the past few years there have been many high profile cases where those on death row have been found to be innocent and some states have halted executions.  In the minds of Americans, this may have had an impact as the number of those who believe in the death penalty has declined since 2003. Currently, 63 percent of Americans believe in the death penalty while three in ten (30%) are opposed to it.  Five years ago, almost seven in ten (69%) believed in it while 22 percent were opposed to it. In 1965, when The Harris Poll first started asking this question, just under half of Americans (47%) were opposed to the death penalty while 38 percent believed in it.

These are some of the results of a Harris Poll of 1,010 adults surveyed by telephone between February 5 and 11, 2008 by Harris Interactive....

One question with regard to the death penalty is whether or not it serves as a deterrent to others. Just over half (52%) of Americans believe that executing people who commit murder does not have much effect on deterring others from committing murder. Two in five (42%) say that executing people does deter others from committing murder....

When it comes to whether people would like to see an increase or decrease in the number of convicted criminals who are executed, there is a bit of a divide among Americans. Just over one-third (36%) believe there should be an increase while one-quarter (26%) say there should be a decrease and three in ten (31%) believe there should be no change....

There is one issue almost all Americans agree on — 95 percent of U.S. adults say that sometimes innocent people are convicted of murder while only 5 percent believe that this never occurs.  This is a number that has held steady since 1999.  Among those who believe innocent people are sometimes convicted of murder, when asked how many they believe are innocent, the average is 12 out of 100 or 12 percent.  In looking at this by race and ethnicity, African Americans believe more innocent people are convicted than both Whites and Hispanics (25% versus 9% and 12% respectively).  Democrats also believe more innocent people are convicted than Republicans (15% versus 6%).

March 18, 2008 at 08:49 AM | Permalink


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These poll numbers are not to be trusted. The real Americans (not the liberal media-infected ones) overwhelmingly believe in MORE killing by the state and feel safer every time someone is killed by the state. I base this on nothing, but it is objective fact.

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 18, 2008 9:05:03 AM

Fun with polls:

A total of 57% believe that there should be a decrease in the number of people executed (26%) or that the number of people executed should stay the same (31%). There have been no executions in the U.S. for six months.

Posted by: dm | Mar 18, 2008 9:30:33 AM

This is almost as annoying as that bimbo asking people about Obama's religion


Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 18, 2008 10:23:21 AM

With the steady drumbeat against capital punishment by the mainstream media, it is surprising that a majority of Americans still favor capital punishment. If the issue of capital punishment was treated objectively by the mainstream media, these poll numbers (in favor of capital punishment) would be much higher.

Posted by: justice seeker | Mar 18, 2008 3:38:10 PM

Polls are silly. You can pretty much get “the majority” of people to answer in specific ways. Thankfully, the “masses” have little to do with decisions regarding capital punishment. Instead, these decisions will be made by people that are paid to see much more nuance than any survey would ever want to capture.

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 18, 2008 4:03:46 PM

Interesting that the numbers are essentially opposite of what they were in 1965. Of course, back then we didn't have all news stations to assure that any murder involving an attractive blonde woman or child (with the ocassional brunette thrown in for diversity) gets numerous hours of media coverage. Yes, the "free press" has long been sensationalistic, and the notion that "if it bleeds, it leads" has long been present in the media, but media coverage is much more extensive today.

Even assuming argumendo that the mainstream media does oppose the death penalty, the increase in media coverage of crime (and the fact that thanks to the internet and 24 hour news stations there is much more media available and that many formerly exclusively local stories now become national stories) the overall balance in the media still tilts towards fear of crime which is likely to cause people to support the death penalty.

Of course, it could just be that majority support for the death penalty today versus 1965 is a symptom of the general rightward movement of the US since then.

Posted by: Zack | Mar 18, 2008 4:34:44 PM


I don't think the highlighting of some crimes by the cable news networks comes anywhere close to counteracting the anti-death penalty drumbeat by national and local newspapers and the national news networks. I guess what I'm saying is that I disagree with your point.

Posted by: justice seeker | Mar 18, 2008 4:52:47 PM

Well, if by the perjorative words "anti-death penalty drumbeat" our friend "justice seeker" means accurate reporting on the number of people sentenced to death who have been exonerated by DNA testing (and in other ways), then I suppose s/he's right that this has had some effect.

But if "justice seeker" thinks that actual sentencing of innocents to death should be swept under the rug, then I think her/his name is false advertising.

Posted by: David in NY | Mar 19, 2008 10:09:28 AM

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