WASHINGTON, D.C. — The majority of Americans, 55%, are in favor of the death penalty for convicted murderers in the U.S. While this marks the sixth consecutive year that support for capital punishment is between 54% and 56%, it is below the 60% to 80% readings recorded in the four prior decades between 1976 and 2016.
When Gallup initiated this measure in 1936, 59% of U.S. adults favored the death penalty for convicted murderers — and majorities have supported it since then, with the exception of several readings taken between 1957 and March 1972, including the record-low 42% in 1966.
After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in June 1972, majorities continued to back it. When it was reinstated in 1976, public support for it grew until it peaked at 80% in 1994. At least 60% of U.S. adults favored capital punishment until 2017, when support dipped to the lowest point since 1972, and today it remains at that level.
The latest findings are from an Oct. 3-20 Gallup poll that was conducted during the trial of the gunman who murdered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018. On Oct. 13, the jury in the highly publicized trial spared him the death penalty and instead sentenced him to prison for the rest of his life. The decision was met with disappointment from many of the victims’ families, who thought the gunman should be put to death.
Partisan Divide in Support for Death Penalty Persists
Partisans’ views of the death penalty differ sharply, with majorities of Republicans (77%) and independents (54%) favoring it but a majority of Democrats opposed (63%) and 35% in favor.
Since 2000, when Gallup began tracking the measure annually in its Crime survey, Republicans’ support has been the most consistent. No less than 72% of Republicans have been in favor of the death penalty, and the latest reading is not statistically different from the 2000 reading of 80%.
Over the same period, independents’ support has been as high as 68% and has only once fallen below the majority level (to 49% in 2020). The current reading is down 14 percentage points compared with 2000.
Democrats’ support for capital punishment has not been at the majority level since 2012 and has varied the most of the three party groups, ranging from 34% to 65% since 2000. Democrats’ latest reading is essentially unchanged from last year’s record low for them and is 21 points lower than the 2000 reading.
The 55% of Americans who favor the death penalty for convicted murderers has been steady since 2017 but lower than readings for the 40 years prior to that. The decline since that period is largely owed to Democrats’ diminished support, while Republicans’ support for capital punishment has remained high.