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Two-Thirds of Americans Support the Death Penalty

Public support of the death penalty has remained steady over the last year, according to the latest Gallup poll, conducted Feb. 12 through 21.

Sixty-seven percent of Americans favored the death penalty for murder, while 25 percent were against it. These numbers are similar to last year’s readings of the public’s view on the death penalty.
The Gallup data shows the public’s attitude toward death penalty reached a high of 80 percent support in 1994, and began declining since then. Even the Oklahoma City bombing and the federal government’s seeking and obtaining the death penalty for Timothy McVeigh in 1995 did not reverse the downward trend.
McVeigh’s case added controversy to public debate on the death penalty because of his desire, and the desire of some victims’ families, to have his execution televised.
According to the poll, 54 percent of Americans favored the death penalty versus 42 percent of those who favored life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
The poll revealed several trends: Non-whites are much less supportive of death penalty than whites, men tend to support the death penalty by nearly 10 percentage points more than women, Americans under 30 are less likely to favor death penalty than older Americans, and Republicans are more likely to favor death penalty than Democrats (79 percent versus 52 percent respectively).
Most Americans support the death penalty because they believe it provides appropriate justice, or even vengeance, for the committed crime, according to the latest data. Forty-eight percent of those interviewed said the punishment “fits the crime,” and six percent said “[criminals] deserve it.”
Twenty percent of supporters said they believe the death penalty “saves taxpayers money” and 10 percent said it is a deterrent to committing severe crimes.
Alex Smirnov is BCE’s research associate.