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New 47% Low Say Death Penalty Is Fairly Applied in U.S.

New 47% Low Say Death Penalty Is Fairly Applied in U.S.

Story Highlights

  • 50% say death penalty applied unfairly, 47% fairly in U.S. today
  • Record-low 28% of Democrats think death penalty is applied fairly
  • 53% in favor of death penalty, including record-low 32% of Democrats

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For the first time since Gallup started asking about the fairness of the death penalty's application in the U.S. -- a trend that dates back to 2000 -- more Americans say it is applied unfairly (50%) than fairly (47%). This represents a five-point increase in the percentage who think it is applied unfairly since the prior measurement in 2018.


From 2000 through 2015, between 51% and 61% of Americans thought capital punishment was used fairly in the U.S., but since 2016, readings on the measure have averaged 49%. The latest reading is from Gallup’s annual Crime survey, conducted Oct. 2-23.

Solid majorities of Republicans since 2000 have consistently said the death penalty is fairly applied, including 68% currently. Meanwhile, Democrats have been far less likely to say the death penalty is applied fairly, barely reaching the majority level twice -- in 2005 and 2006. The current 28% reading among Democrats is the lowest for the group, while independents’ 46% reading ties their lowest, from 2000.


Americans’ Support for Death Penalty Lowest in Five Decades

Gallup first asked Americans whether they supported the death penalty for convicted murderers in 1936 and found 59% favoring it. With the exception of several readings between 1957 and March 1972, including the record-low 42% in 1966, majorities have supported it since then.

Even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in June 1972, majorities continued to back it, and after it was reinstated in 1976, public support for it grew, eventually peaking at 80% in 1994. At least 60% of U.S. adults favored capital punishment until 2017, when support dipped below that level. The current 53% of Americans who favor the death penalty is the lowest since 1972, though it is not statistically different from 54% and 55% readings over the past three years.


Partisans' views of the death penalty continue to differ sharply, with most Republicans (81%) and a slim majority of independents (51%) favoring it, but most Democrats (65%) opposing it. The 32% of Democrats who currently support capital punishment for murderers is the lowest in Gallup’s trend.

Support for the death penalty in 2023 among independents and Democrats falls well below these groups' recent averages of 60% and 48%, respectively, while Republican support is similar to the 79% average.


Plurality Continues to Think Death Penalty Is Not Imposed Often Enough

A separate question gauging Americans’ opinions of how frequently the death penalty is imposed finds that 39% think it is not used often enough and equal 28% shares saying it is used too often and not enough. This general pattern -- whereby a plurality or majority think capital punishment is not used enough, while smaller percentages are divided between thinking it is used about the right amount or too often -- has been the case since the inception of this Gallup trend question.


A 62% majority of Republicans think the death penalty is not applied often enough, while 25% say it is imposed about the right amount and 10% too often. For their part, 52% of Democrats believe the death penalty is applied too often, 24% about the right amount and 20% not enough. Independents’ views are more divided, with 37% saying not often enough, 32% about the right amount and 26% too often.

Bottom Line

Capital punishment is legal in 27 U.S. states and in the U.S. nationally, but both death sentences and executions have declined in recent years. Support for the death penalty for convicted murderers persists among all Americans, albeit at lower levels than in the past, as Democrats’ support for it continues to fall.

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