Unlike in past elections, national interest in the presidential candidates' position on the death penalty has waned, partly due to a decline in the number of states that no longer allow capital punishment.
Also, in U.S. the rate of violent crimes decreased steadily for 20 years, until 2015 when, according to the FBI, the numbers rose to 1.7 % with a 6 % increase in homicides.
History has shown that when the crime numbers are up, more people are pro-death penalty and interest in the position political candidates take on the issue becomes more important to voters.
A good example of this was the 1988 presidential election between Michael Dukakis and George H.W. Bush. At the time, the national murder rate was averaging around 8.4 % and 76 % of Americans were for the death penalty, the 2nd highest number since recording began in 1936.
Dukakis was pegged as being too liberal and soft on crime and received a fair amount of criticism because he was opposed to the death penalty.
An incident that many believe sealed his fate as the presidential loser occurred during an October 13, 1988, debate between Dukakis and Bush when the moderator, Bernard Shaw asked Dukakis if he would be in favor of the death penalty if his wife were raped and murdered. Dukakis replied that he would not favor it and reiterated that he was opposed to the death penalty all of his life. The general consensus was that his answer was cold and his national poll numbers plummeted that same night.
Despite the fact that the majority of the U.S. is still in favor of the death penalty, opposition is rising and it is now at 38 % which is the highest it has been in 40 years.
Bernie Sanders - Against the Death Penalty
During a February 2016 MSNBC debate, Bernie Sanders voiced concerns that there have been innocent people, particularly minorities, who have been executed.
"Of course there are barbaric acts out there, but in a world of so much violence and killing, I just don't believe that government itself should be part of the killing," Sanders said. "I just don't want to see government be part of killing."
Bernie Sanders has been against the death penalty for over 20 years.
Hillary Clinton - Supports the Death Penalty
Hillary Clinton has taken a more cautious stand than her counterpart. During the same debate, Clinton said that she was concerned about how the death penalty is handled on a state level and that she has a lot more confidence in the federal system.
"For very limited, particularly heinous crimes, I believe it is an appropriate punishment, but I deeply disagree with the way that too many states still are implementing it," Clinton said.
Clinton was again confronted with questions about her views on the death penalty during a CNN-hosted Democratic town hall on March 14, 2016.
Ricky Jackson, an Ohio man who spent 39 years in prison and came "perilously close" to being executed, and who was later found to be innocent, was emotional when he asked Clinton, "In light of what I've just shared with you and in light of the fact that there are undocumented cases of innocent people who have been executed in our country. I would like to know how you can still take your stance on the death penalty."
Clinton again voiced her concerns, saying, "the states have proven themselves incapable of carrying out fair trials that give any defendant all the rights that defendant should have..."
She also said she would "breathe a sigh of relief" if the Supreme Court of the states eliminated the death penalty. She then added that she still supported it "in rare cases" on a federal level for terrorist and mass murderers.
"If it were possible to separate the federal from the state system by the Supreme Court," Clinton added, confusingly, "that would, I think, be an appropriate outcome."
Donald Trump - Supports the Death Penalty
On December 10, 2015, Donald Trump announced to several hundred police union members in Milford, New Hampshire, that one of the first things he would do as president would be to sign a statement that anybody that kills a police office would get the death penalty. He made the announcement after he accepted the endorsement of the New England Police Benevolent Association.
"One of the first things I do, in terms of executive order if I win, will be to sign a strong, strong statement that will go out to the country -- out to the world -- that anybody killing a policeman, policewoman, a police officer -- anybody killing a police officer, the death penalty. It's going to happen, OK? We can't let this go."
Trump also earned his pro-death penalty status after taking out a full-page ad in 4 New York City newspapers titled, "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY! BRING BACK THE POLICE!" It was assumed that his actions were in reference to the May 1989 brutal rape of a woman who was jogging in Central Park, although he never made reference to the attack.
Ted Cruz - Supports the Death Penalty
Ted Cruz has been a long time supporter of the death penalty and believes that the decision should be left up to each state.
In a September 2015 interview with POLITICO, Cruz said, "I spent a number of years in law enforcement dealing with some of the worst criminals, child rapists and murderers, people who've committed unspeakable acts. I believe the death penalty is recognition of the preciousness of human life, that for the most egregious crimes, the ultimate punishment should apply."
Cruz also supported the decision to execute a man in Texas who many were fighting to keep alive because the man was mentally ill.
"I trust the criminal-justice system to operate, to protect the rights of the accused, and to administer justice to violent criminals," Cruz said.
Source: about.com, May 2, 2016