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Home > civil liberties, criminal justice > Public Opinion Regarding the Death Penalty

Public Opinion Regarding the Death Penalty

First off, I found this chart – via a new paper by Andrew Gelman and Kenny Shirley – showing levels of support for capital punishment based on race and sex extremely fascinating. The starkest finding is the clear difference in support for capital punishment between blacks and whites. What to make of this huge gap? Over at Big Think, Will Wilkinson points out exactly what I think explains this large discrepancy:

Perhaps this is not surprising, as blacks have been and remain much more likely than whites to be executed. But blacks are also more likely to be murdered than whites. If the death penalty is a deterrent, as is often alleged, it ought to benefit blacks more than whites. In any case, if there is a deterrent effect, black Americans are not too impressed. Strong black opposition to the death penalty likely reflects more than just the fact that blacks are more likely than whites to be executed, but also a widespread sense among blacks, often backed by personal experience, that they are more likely to be ill-treated by the criminal justice system generally.

On a related note, there are a couple of recently released polls regarding public support for the death penalty. One poll from CNN shows support for capital punishment at 48%, while Gallup has a poll showing support at 61%. Despite a thirteen-point difference in both poll results, either number represents a 39 year low for support of the death penalty. However, despite the fact that these results show the American people favoring the death penalty at low levels not seen since the 1970’s, both numbers still remain far too high. Perhaps the drop in support has to do with the recent execution of Troy Davis, and the myriad questions surrounding his prosecution and witnesses recanting their testimony.

Regardless, the main takeaway from both polls is the steady decline of public opinion favoring the death penalty. In just under ten years, support for capital punishment in the Gallup poll fell from 70% to 61%, while in the past seven years, the CNN poll shows support dropping from 56% to 48%.

h/t ACLU

Image via Andrew Gelman

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