Perhaps the crowds at the Republican debate that infamously cheered capital punishment aren’t representative of the country as a whole: Americans’ support for the death penalty has dropped to its lowest level since 1972. A new study by Gallup found that 61 percent of Americans approve of the death penalty as a punishment for people convicted of murder, a drop from 64 percent last year. Even so, this number still reflects that a majority of citizens still favor executions, despite being the only country in the Western Hemisphere that continues the practice.
Attitudes toward capital punishment vary significantly based on political affiliation. While the findings are not surprising, the study provides further evidence that GOP politicians won’t be as apt to ending the death penalty if elected.
Support for the death penalty is highly partisan in nature. Almost three-quarters of Republicans and independents who lean Republican approve, compared with 46% of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic. Additionally, men, whites, and those living in the South and Midwest are among those most likely to support the death penalty. Americans younger than age 30 are less likely to support the death penalty than are those who are 30 and older.
The results of the Oct. 6-9 poll might indicate that Americans are more skeptical of capital punishment following the Sept. 21 execution of Troy Davis in Georgia. Davis’ case stimulated massive protests, mainly because many people doubted that he was in fact guilty. Other executions without lingering questions of innocence have not drawn nearly as much attention and activism, suggesting that the United States might still not be ready to join the rest of the democratic world and abandon the death penalty.