February 12, 2014

Support for death penalty drops among Americans


More than half of Americans favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, down from 78% in 1996.

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that his state will not use the death penalty while he’s in office. In neighboring Oregon, Gov. John Kitzhaber made a similar move in 2011, and last year, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order halting an impending execution, and said there was “a legitimate question whether we as a state should be taking lives.”

While a majority of Americans (55%) favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, according to a 2013 Pew Research survey, that number has declined significantly over the last two decades. In 1996, about three-quarters of the U.S. public (78%) favored capital punishment. Meanwhile, the share of those saying they oppose the death penalty has risen from 18% in 1996 to 37% in 2013.


Our survey questions about the death penalty sometimes give respondents the opportunity to specify whether they “strongly favor” or “strongly oppose” the practice. In 2013, 18% of Americans said they “strongly favor” the death penalty – a steep drop from 28% who said this in 2011.

Against this backdrop of public opinion, several states have legally banned the practice in recent years, bringing the total to 18 (plus the District of Columbia). That leaves 32 states where the death penalty is legal. A number of states, including California, North Carolina, Arkansas, Kentucky and Georgia, have de facto moratoriums on the death penalty while state courts weigh lawsuits dealing primarily with execution methods, according to Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit organization in Washington that collects information on the death penalty.

In Washington state, Inslee explained his decision by saying that there have been “too many doubts raised” about the death penalty, and there are “too many flaws in the system today,” according to the Associated Press. In 2011, we asked Americans why they oppose or support the death penalty, and 27% of those opposed to the death penalty cited the imperfect nature of the justice system as their reason. That was one of the two most common answers; 27% also said the death penalty is wrong/immoral/not our right.

Category: Daily Number

Topics: Death Penalty

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Aaron4 years ago

    So, what does this say about the evolution of thinking in our country?

  2. Beverly Margolis-Kurtin4 years ago

    Imposing the death penalty on any individual who is convicted on no physical evidence is wrong.

    Imposing the death penalty on any individual who is convicted on the basis of eye witness evidence, is also wrong.

    Unless an individual is caught doing a capital offense IN THE ACTUAL ACT or sufficient physical evidence proves them guilty…the death penalty is wrong.

    In other words, capital punishment in this blood thirsty nation is simply revenge for the deed. The only exception I would consider is treason or political assassination of the president, vice-president and/or speaker of the house.

    Would I want revenge for heinous acts such as the Federal Building in Oklahoma City? Of course. However, I feel (and this is an emotional situation) that the person who wiped out the lives of so many people would have been better served by giving him the penalty of spending the rest of his life in solitary confinement with no opportunity to communicate with anyone outside of the prison in which he was held.

    Simply putting that monster to death was not enough punishment; I feel that he should have suffered in solitary with no reading material and no communication with others. It would, of course, result in his losing his mind, but since it was a sick mind, who cares?

    Anyone who causes the death of innocent human beings, such as the unwarranted deaths of those people in OKC should be made to suffer to the fullest extend. I’ve visited the site of that horrendous act of a sick mind; I would that it were possible for all Americans to visit it too. It is quite moving.

    That 55% of Americans still champion the death penalty just tells me that that 55% are right wingers. When people gave former President Bush a standing ovation for murdering more people than any other governor, I felt sick to my stomach. On the way to “achieving” that number, he deliberately put to death at least ONE man who was not guilty. The president knew it, yet with that smirk of his he said, “Well, the jury found him guilty.” There are other cases in which innocent people were “put down” like dogs or cats because they were “eye witness” testimony.

    Eye witness testimony has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be useless. Countless tests have proven that, yet it continues to be putting people in prison who later, sometimes after the death of the person while incarcerated, were proven innocent.

    Life is too precious to let someone die or be incarcerated on “eye witness evidence.”

  3. Mustapha4 years ago

    Islam that is the practice of Muhammad never understood by even his followers today always sets conditions and criteria. In reality, the practice does not allow capital punishment to a certain extent. Is there any criteria or condition set for capital punishment by the Western civilization?

    1. Beverly Margolis-Kurtin4 years ago

      Please excuse my wonderment at your comment. It may be true that Islam prohibits to one extent or the other, capital punishment, but currently in many Islamic countries people who steal have their hands cut off. Women who are raped are stoned to death. Homosexuals are hanged but without the benefit of having their necks broken. They are asphyxiated because instead of being dropped from a gallows, they are pulled up from the ground by cranes.

      Most Islamic countries act as though they were still in the 14th century. The only kind of rule they understand is dictatorial rule. Democracy is something they think comes in a gift-wrapped box.

      Islamic countries are a throw back to the bad old days of serfdom. They are opposed to Western culture. They have no concept of freedom of the individual as we have in the West.

      The movie that got all of their robes in a knot angered them because in Islamic countries NOTHING can be produced without the dictator’s approval; they think the same thing is true here in the West.

      OPEC was formed in an attempt to bring down the democratic nations. They assumed that, for example, Americans would riot in the streets as they do. They were gob-stopped when it didn’t happen. In a similar vein, they were hoping that when there was no clear winner of an election a few years ago, that we would finally panic and go crazy in the streets. They could not imagine such a thing. We Americans just sat back and let the Constitution work, which, in this writer’s mind, it did not. We were presented with the wrong “winner.”

      However, to our eternal credit, we all rallied around our new president and supported him. That was a mistake of gigantic proportions because the new president decided to ignore warnings from a close ally that the Muslims were up to something. By ignoring their advice, we lost more people than in the dastardly attack Pearl Harbor in 1941.

      We are STILL fighting a war in a part of the world in which we knew or should have known as impossible to win. Nobody in the history of the planet has been able to win a war in Afghanistan.

      However, once again, we Americans are an unusual breed BECAUSE of the diversity of the immigrants on which this country was built. (Apologies to the people who rightfully owned the country before we got here.)

      Even Muslims who come to this country with the intent of keeping their backward and intolerant ways find that their children become Americanized as have all such immigrants. I am a 3rd generation American, my children are 4th and my grandchildren are 5th generation Americans.

      Without denigrating any other Western country, there is something radically different in the mind of the average American from any other country this planet has ever seen. Sometimes we are too smug, but dang it, we have the RIGHT to sometimes feel superior to those who do not have our Constitution. At other times, we ought to hang our combined heads in shame for some of the things we do wrong.

      In the end, however, methinks that this has been the greatest nation the world has ever seen. I fear for that continuing because of Citizens United. I close with a profound statement that the late Justice Brandeis said, ““We may have a democracy or we may have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”

      1. Olivia Mahoney4 years ago

        Superior? O.K then… Maybe that is what makes America “different” I should have known they are “Superior”

        1. Kevin2 years ago

          You cannot look at one nation being superior to another or look at one society being superior over another. Every society is different in their own way. I think a dictatorship is totally wrong but bringing religion into a discussion about whether the constitution is correct or not is completely absurd. Take your thoughts and feelings out of the equation and look at the actual written words of the Constitution.