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Confidence in Death Penalty Application Hits All-Time Low

U.S. confidence in the fair application of capital punishment dipped below 50 percent for the first time in Gallup polling history, according to the organization’s Oct. 22 report.

When respondents were asked, “Do you believe the death penalty is applied fairly or unfairly in this country today?” 49 percent said “fairly,” and 45 percent said “unfairly.”

This is the slimmest margin since Gallup began asking the question in 2000.

Views differed significantly based on political affiliation, with 73 percent of Republicans saying the death penalty is applied fairly, compared to 47 percent of independents and 31 percent of Democrats.

“The decline in Americans’ belief that capital punishment is applied fairly is largely the result of a sharp drop in this view among Democrats,” the report explained. “Meanwhile … the percentage [of Republicans] holding this view has been fairly stable over time – typically in the low 70s.”

A growing number of U.S. adults feel capital punishment is used too often, with 29 percent of respondents expressing this position – an 11-point increase since 2010.

Over the same period, the number of people who say the death penalty is not used enough has declined from 49 percent to 37 percent.

“Historically, Americans have been generally supportive of the death penalty as the punishment for murder. … However, support for capital punishment too has been trending downward since peaking at 80 percent in the mid-1990s during a high point in the violent crime rate,” the report said. “Currently, 56 percent of U.S. adults favor capital punishment – similar to last year’s 55 percent, which marked the lowest level of support for the practice since 1972, when the constitutionality of the death penalty was being challenged.”

The full report is available here.