The latest national Gallup poll on crime found that support for the death penalty in America is now at its lowest level in the past thirty years. From a high of 80% of Americans in favor of the death penalty in 1994, support dropped this year to 64%.
Support for the death penalty is down five percentage points from 2007, to the low level first seen in 2003 to 2005. This year’s results are consistent with a recent nationwide trend against capital punishment.
Opposition to the death penalty rose from 2007. Thirty percent of Americans now oppose the death penalty — an increase of three percentage points from last year.
Gallup obtained this data by conducting telephone interviews with 1011 adults nationwide in October 2008. The long-standing polling company conducts a nationwide survey about crime annually.
Although support for the death penalty declined this year, Gallup’s summary of the new data suggests that the majority of Americans continue to support the use of the death penalty as the punishment for murder.
But Gallup’s conclusions are undermined by its failure to ask about support for alternative punishments for murder. In most states, including Alabama, life without parole and death are the only sentencing options for capital murder. Accordingly, the question that most accurately measures Americans’ attitudes about capital punishment presents the death penalty as an alternative to life imprisonment without parole.
Gallup did not ask about the death penalty compared to life without parole in its 2008 survey. However, the last time it asked that question, in 2006, Gallup found that 48% of Americans preferred life without parole, compared to 47% who preferred the death penalty. Indeed, Gallup consistently has found lower support for the death penalty when it is offered as an alternative to life imprisonment without parole.
The 2008 polling data shows that Americans are divided about the death penalty and demonstrates the mounting trend against capital punishment in America.