Declining support for the death penalty

I found Gallup’s latest on the death penalty to be quite interesting.  Support has really been dropping more than I realized.  I’ve got to think all the exonerations of innocent people from death row have something to do with it.  Here’s the main chart:

Trend: Are you in favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder?

Also, quite interesting is how much this has become a partisan split:

Support for the Death Penalty -- 1988-2013 Trend by Party ID

Since early in Bill Clinton’s days (a notable supporter of the death penalty as part of his “new Democrat” image) Democratic support has declined from 75 down to 47.  And the smaller decline in Indepdents likely represents a similar decline in Democratic leaners among the category.  With a clear partisan split, now, it will be interesting to see if this reemerges as a partisan issue.  Though, I think we’d need to see Democrats below 40% for that to happen.

And, a final chart, that I find somewhat depressing:

Trend: Generally speaking, do you believe the death penalty is applied fairly or unfairly in this country today?

Short version, there’s a non-trivial portion of the electorate who finds the death penalty to be applied “unfairly” but supports it anyway.  In a better world, this number would never be lower than the topline number in the first chart.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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