A recent Gallup Poll shows the national trend of declining support for the death penalty is holding steady. The survey found 63% of respondents supported capital punishment – a significant decline from 1994, when 80% of Americans favored the death penalty, and just slightly higher than 2011, when support was measured at 61%, the lowest level in forty years.
Support for the death penalty has been gradually diminishing since the high point in 1994. By 2001, roughly two-thirds were in favor, and since then it has edged closer to 60%. The poll was conducted a few days after the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and Gallup acknowledged that the Newtown tragedy “could have influenced Americans’ thoughts about capital punishment and may be a reason support for it held steady this year, rather than declining any further.”
When Gallup and other polls offer respondents a choice between the death penalty or life in prison without parole, the public is nearly evenly split. Among the groups most supportive of the death penalty in this latest Gallup poll were conservatives, Republicans, men, older respondents, residents of the South and Midwest, and those with a high school or less education.
Nationwide, use of the death penalty also remained at or near historic lows. The Death Penalty Information Center reports that the number of new death sentences in 2012 was the second lowest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 – a nearly 75% decline since 1996. Only nine states carried out executions in 2012, equaling the fewest number of states to do so in 20 years.
2012 continued a recent trend of states abolishing the death penalty, with Connecticut joining Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York in abolishing capital punishment. A 2012 ballot measure demonstrated the erosion of support for the death penalty in California, where 47.1% of voters supported abolition – a dramatic decline from the 70% of the vote garnered in 1978 for the current death penalty law.
Maryland is primed to join the growing group of non-death penalty states in 2013. This week, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley announced he is prioritizing repeal of the death penalty, saying it is a waste of resources that could be better used to fight crime in more productive ways.
Alabama continues to buck the national trend against the death penalty. While the number of death sentences imposed in 2012 was down from previous years, and the state executed no one in 2012, Alabama still has the nation’s highest death sentencing rate and the highest share of its citizens condemned to death of any state in the country.