Albert Ruiz, 50, who is on death row for murder, is led down a corridor at San Quentin state prison in San Quentin, California June 8, 2012.
Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Support for death penalty drops to 40-year low in new poll


Support for the death penalty may be slowly dying.

A new Gallup poll released Tuesday shows 60% of Americans back capital punishment for convicted murderers–the lowest rate in nearly 41 years.

Across party lines, results are split: 81% of Republicans favor the death penalty compared to the 47% of Democrats. Independent voters were on par with the national average at 60%. Out of those numbers, Dems showed the largest drop compared to the two other groups.

“This latest poll is a reflection of what is happening in the country. It’s not a question of if, but when,” said Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, suggesting the US will eventually abandon the death penalty. “Increased opposition has become increasingly broad and diverse, spanning races, class and political parties.”

She told MSNBC these results are “consistent with what we’ve been seeing all along: support declines as people are confronted with reality of how the death penalty works.”

In November 1972, in its lowest level of support, only 57% of the public backed it. Gallup pollsters attributed that waning in the mid-50s through the early 1970s on the changing political climate and civil rights movement during that time: “The culmination of that era was the Supreme Court’s 1972 Furman v. Georgia decision, which invalidated all state death penalty statutes on technical grounds but stopped short of declaring the practice itself unconstitutional. Four years later, the court ruled that several newly written death penalty laws were constitutional, and executions resumed in the U.S. shortly thereafter.”

On the flip side, in 1994 a peak of 80% of Americans supported the practice. 

Despite the up-and-down dips in support, historically, Americans have tended to favor the death penalty. But that number has been gradually declining in the past two decades.

Currently,18 states do not have the death penalty, with six of them banning it since 2006.

Capital Punishment

Support for death penalty drops to 40-year low in new poll