As the Supreme Court prepares to hear the 1st of 2 death penalty cases in this year's term, the share of Americans who support the death penalty for people convicted of murder is now at its lowest point in more than 4 decades.
Only about 1/2 of Americans (49%) now favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, while 42% oppose it. Support has dropped 7 % points since March 2015, from 56%. Public support for capital punishment peaked in the mid-1990s, when 8-in-10 Americans (80% in 1994) favored the death penalty and fewer than 2-in-10 were opposed (16%). Opposition to the death penalty is now the highest it has been since 1972.
Though support for the death penalty has declined across most groups, a Pew Research Center survey conducted Aug. 23-Sept. 2 among 1,201 adults finds that most Republicans continue to largely favor its use in cases of murder, while most Democrats oppose it. By more than 2-to-1, more Republicans (72%) than Democrats (34%) currently favor the death penalty.
2 decades ago, when majorities in both parties favored the death penalty, the partisan gap was only 16 % points (87% of Republicans vs. 71% of Democrats).
And, for the 1st time in decades, independents are as likely to oppose the use of the death penalty (45%) as they are to favor it (44%). The share of independents who support capital punishment has fallen 13 points since last year (from 57%).
This shift in views among independents is particularly pronounced among those who lean toward the Democratic Party (a 10-point decrease in support) and those who do not lean to either party (down 16 points). Support for the death penalty among independents who lean toward the GOP is little changed from March 2015 (73% now, 70% then).
Even as support for the death penalty has declined across nearly all groups, demographic differences remain: Men are more likely to back the use of the death penalty than women, white Americans are more supportive than blacks and Hispanics, and attitudes on the issue also differ by age, education and along religious lines.
More than 1/2 of men (55%) say they are in favor of the death penalty and 38% are opposed. Women's views are more divided: 43% favor the death penalty, 45% oppose it.
A 57% majority of whites favor the death penalty for those convicted of murder (down from 63% last year). But blacks and Hispanics support it at much lower rates: Just 29% of blacks and 36% of Hispanics favor capital punishment.
There are only modest difference by age and education in support for the death penalty, with 18- to 29-year-olds somewhat less likely to support it (42% favor) than those in older age groups (51% of those 30 and older). Those without a college degree are more likely than those with at least a college degree to favor the use of the death penalty in cases of murder (51% vs. 43%).
White evangelical Protestants continue to back the use of the death penalty by a wide margin (69% favor, 26% oppose). White mainline Protestants also are substantially more likely to support (60%) than oppose (31%) the death penalty. But among Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated, opinion is more divided: 43% of Catholics favor capital punishment, while 46% oppose it. And while 50% of those who are religiously unaffiliated oppose the death penalty, 40% support it.
A more detailed study last year of attitudes toward capital punishment found that 63% of the public thought the death penalty was morally justified, but majorities said there was some risk of an innocent person being put to death (71%) and that the death penalty does not deter serious crime (61%).
Source: pewresearch.org, September 30, 2016
US death penalty: Proportion of Americans who support execution falls below 50% for the first time
The Pew Research Center, which looks at social issues, found that belief in capital punishment was at its lowest for over four decades.
Only about half of Americans (49%) now favour execution for inmates convicted of murder, while 42% oppose it.
Support has dropped by 7% since March 2015, from 56%.
There has been a sizeable slump in public approval for state executions, which peaked during the mid-1990s.
In 1994, eight out of 10 Americans backed the death penalty, and under two in 10 were opposed to it.
According to the Pew's findings, opposition to the death penalty is at its highest since 1972.
Previous Gallup polls have shown that support fell as low as 42% in 1966, but then rose gradually to hit 80% in 1994.
Since then, it has been gradually declining across almost all demographics.
Pew found that people who identified as Republican were more likely to agree with capital punishment for convicted murderers (72%), while 34% of Democrats shared that view.
Men were more likely to say they favoured the death penalty, at 55%, while 38% oppose it - but for women the number for and against was almost equal - 43% for, and 45% against.
A 57% majority of white people favour the death penalty for murderers (down from 63% last year).
But Black and Hispanic people support it at much lower rates, at 29% and 36% respectively.
Being younger and spending longer in formal education also made respondents less likely to support execution.
Among those aged 18 to 29, the level was 42% in favour, compared to 51% of those 30 and older.
Among Americans with at least a college degree, 43% backed the death penalty, while that rose to 51% for those without a degree.
The researchers surveyed 1,201 adults between 23 August and 23 September, 2016.
The prevailing trend mimics the shift seen across the Atlantic.
In Britain, support for the death penalty dropped below 50% for the first time in 2015, according to the NatCen British Social Attitudes Report.
The survey found 48% were in favour of capital punishment, which was abolished in the UK in the 1960s.
Source: BBC News, September 30, 2016
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