Majority of U.S. Still Supports Death Penalty

More than half the American public supports the death penalty, although the number has fallen in recent years,  according to a new survey.

The findings come despite a number of highly publicized exonerations for wrongful murder convictions.

The findings show 62% of 2001 adults surveyed in November support the death penalty for people convicted of murder, while just 31% oppose it, according to the Pew Research Center for People and the Press.

Historically, support for the death penalty was 59% in 1936 when the initial Gallup polls were taken and over the last 75 years opposition to executions has never risen above 47%, according to the Pew research report.

The support for capital punishment hit an all-time low of 42% in 1966 and the only time in history when opposition, at 47%,  outstripped support.

During the 1970s and 80s support continued to rise until it peaked in the mid-1990s.

It hit an historic high of 78% in 1996 and has declined since then, according to the Pew report.

Among Americans who oppose the death penalty 27% say they believe it is immoral to kill someone.  That is a significant decline from the 41% who cited moral objections in 1991 surveys.   An identical 27% cite concerns about flaws in the justice system and the potential to execute an innocent person, which is an increase from the 11% who held that opinion two decades ago.

Those who support the death penalty, 53% cited it as the appropriate punishment for the crime, exactly the same numbers as two decades ago.  A smaller group, roughly 15%, cites concern about the cost of incarcerating convicted killers.

Support for the death penalty overwhelmingly comes from whites, at 68%, and drops to 40% among African-Americans and 52% among Hispanics, according to the Pew survey.

Conservative Republicans are far more likely to support capital punishment (84%) than moderate Republicans or independents.  Among Democrats, liberals opposed capital punishment by a margin of 54% to 40%, while conservative and moderate Democrats favor the death penalty but by lower percentages, 55% to 37%.

The survey was conducted among 2,001 Americans in all 50 states during one week in November, 2011.  The survey combined landline and cell phone sampling of people over 18 years old.

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