The changing times of the Death Penalty

So, this is actually pretty big.  The Democratic Party platform will come out against the Death Penalty:

Hillary Clinton has expressed ambivalence on the campaign trail when asked about capital punishment. “States have proven themselves incapable of carrying out fair trials” in death penalty cases, she said in March during a campaign appearance in Ohio, while leaving open the possibility of capital punishment under federal law, in a case investigated and prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.

But her campaign has agreed to a provision in the Democratic Party platform, which is expected to be adopted at the party’s national convention in Philadelphia beginning July 25, that says, “We will abolish the death penalty, which has proven to be a cruel and unusual form of punishment. It has no place in the United States of America.”

The landmark language is the latest illustration of a slow but major shift in American politics.

There is a growing movement, particularly on the left, to end the death penalty. Several states have abolished it over the last decade, including traditionally conservative Nebraska last year. That leaves 31 states with capital punishment statutes still on the books, down from a high of about 40 states in the 1980s.

Use of the death penalty also has been declining. In 1999, states executed 98 people, compared to just 28 in 2015, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. So far this year, 14 people have been executed.

And this graph from 2015 Pew data shows you why:

Wider Partisan Gap on Death Penalty

Though a majority of the public still approves of the death penalty, a majority of Democrats oppose it.  And a calculating politician like Hillary Clinton clearly calculated she has more to gain by going along with the growing Democratic consensus than trying to somehow look more moderate by arguing for the death penalty (as her husband successfully did in very different times).

If nothing else, we’ve gone from a clear bipartisan consensus in favor of the death penalty to a fairly dramatic partisan split.  I think we will probably continue to have the death penalty– especially in the deep South– for a good while yet.  But I do believe that the writing is on the wall that it is eventually on its way out (as it should be in a “civilized” society who’s justice system is ultimate prey to the many biases of human reasoning).  I’ll give it till 2050, tops.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

5 Responses to The changing times of the Death Penalty

  1. ohwilleke says:

    But, apparently against the ill conceived TPP which on the plus side, lowers tariffs on a few goods in a few countries, and on the minus side does a lot to modify intellectual property laws and to allow multinational corporations to trump local legislation.

  2. rgbact says:

    Liberals always think conservatives will eventually come to see issues like they do.. Instead we’ll just get more polarization. So long as Democrats do so dismally at the state level, they won’t be in a position to change much besides their platform. Of course until liberals get the Supreme Court to do their bidding yet again.The vast number of executions have always been in the South anyway. .

    Sanders, as the most left wing runner up in history has had an impact on the platform. Whether that changes how the average Democrat politician votes, is unclear

  3. rgbact says:

    Meh, Nebraska has executed a total of 3 people in 40 years. As I said, most states its irrelevant anyway. Its just easy for a bunch of white people that live in areas with almost no crime to embrace their inner smugness. Overall polling tends to mimic the crime rate though, Your chart is cherry picked from the peak when crime was high.

    • Jon K says:

      I know in conservative evangelical churches there is a lot of debate about the morality of the death penalty. I grew up going to a conservative evangelical church in Nebraska. These people aren’t anything like what RGBact thinks about them. It is so frustrating to read what he posts. Someday I hope he figures out that things aren’t as cut and dry as he thinks that they are. Then he might not be so confident that he knows everything.

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