Public Opinion

POLL: Americans Oppose Death Penalty for Mentally Ill by 2-1

A new poll found that Americans oppose the death penalty for people with mental illness by more than a 2-1 margin. According to Public Policy Polling, 58% of respondents opposed capital punishment for people with mental illness, while only 28% supported it. Professor Robert Smith, an assistant professor of law at the University of North Carolina who commissioned the poll, said, "Today's important polling is part of significant new research which clearly shows an emerging consensus against using capital punishment in cases where the defendant is mentally ill. ... Combining this public polling, sentencing practices, and the recommendations of the mental health medical community, it's clear that a consensus is emerging against the execution of a person like Scott Panetti, who suffers from a debilitating (mental) illness ...." Opposition to the execution of people with mental illness was strong across lines of race, gender, geographic region, political affiliation, and education. Democrats (62%), Republicans (59%) and Independents (51%) all opposed the practice. The results echo the growing number of prominent leaders speaking out against the execution of Panetti in Texas, scheduled for December 3.

Duval County, Florida, Leader in Death Sentences

“Counties"(Click to enlarge) According to a report by the Christian Science Monitor, Duval County, Florida, has the highest per capita rate for inmates on death row of any U.S. county. Duval has sentenced one person to death for every 14,000 residents. It is among the 2% of counties in the U.S. reponsible for a majority of all inmates on death row as of 2013, as described in DPIC's report, The 2% Death Penalty. Duval County ranked 8th, with 60 inmates on death row. Duval has handed down 14 death sentences in the last 5 years. As a s state, Florida had the second highest number of death sentences in 2013, behind only California. Florida's unusual sentencing procedures, which allow a simple majority of the jury to recommend a death sentence, may explain some of Duval's high sentencing numbers, but experts also point to cultural factors. Seth Kotch, a historian from the University of North Carolina, said, "We know that the best predictor of execution is previous execution, which suggests that a courthouse or a county can get into a habit of doing things, and those habitual behaviors are informed by cultural cues about crime and punishment.”

Death Penalty Support Remains Near 40-Year Low

In a Gallup poll released on October 23, support for the death penalty was 63%, remaining within the margin of error of a 40-year low of 60% last year. These results represent a dramatic shift in Americans' views on the death penalty since the 1990's, when support for the death penalty peaked at 80%. Opposition to the death penalty has grown significantly among Democrats, more than doubling over the last 20 years, from 22% in 1994 to 46% today. When offered the alternative punishment of life without parole, respondents are about evenly split, with 50% favoring the death penalty and 45% favoring life without parole. Gallup highlighted the dramatic drop in support since the 1990's, saying, "These trends toward diminished support seem to be reflected in state death penalty laws, as six U.S. states have abolished the death penalty since 2007, and no new states have adopted it." See below for a statement on the poll from DPIC's Executive Director, Richard Dieter.

PUBLIC OPINION: Support for Death Penalty in California Lowest in 50 Years

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(Click to enlarge graph) A Field Poll of voters in California found that support for capital punishment has reached its lowest level since 1965. Only 56% of respondents said they favored keeping the death penalty, down from 69% in 2011. Support for the death penalty among Californians peaked in the mid-1980s at 83%. Some of the strongest opposition to keeping the death penalty came from voters under 30, African Americans, and Democrats. Daisy Vieyra, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Northern California, said support for capital punishment has declined because, "The public is becoming more aware of all the flaws that riddle the system." In 2012, a referendum to replace California's death penalty with life without parole almost passed, coming up short in a 52-48% vote.

 

INTERNATIONAL: Support for the Death Penalty Declines in Russia

A recent poll of 1,600 Russians found that only 52% support the death penalty, a sharp decline from 2002, when 73% said they supported it. Two years ago, 61% were in favor of capital punishment. Russia currently has a moratorium on the death penalty that was put in place in 1996 by President Yeltsin, shortly before Russia signed a relevant protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights. Russia's high court has ruled that even death sentences cannot be handed down. Hundreds of those on death row had their sentences commuted to life.

Poll Finds Majority Support for Life in Prison Over Death Penalty

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A new poll by ABC News and the Washington Post found a majority (52%) of Americans prefer life without parole as punishment for convicted murderers, with just 42% preferring the death penalty. This is the first time that this poll has found a majority support for life without parole over the death penalty. Without an alternative sentence offered, support for the death penalty was 61%, equaling the lowest level of support in polls going back to the early 1980s, and showing a significant drop since support for the death penalty peaked at 80% in 1994. Even among those who said they support the death penalty in the abstract, 29% preferred the alternative of life without parole when offered a choice between the two punishments. In states that do not have capital punishment, respondents were more likely to prefer life without parole (58%), with only 38% selecting the death penalty. Among the groups that had stronger than average support for life without parole were women (57%), nonwhites (65%), and Democrats (67%). 

Ohio Residents Support Life Sentences Over Death Penalty

A recent poll by Quinnipiac University found that Ohioans support life sentences over the death penalty for people convicted of murder. A total of 49% of respondents chose sentences of life without parole (40%) or life with parole (9%), compared to just 43% who chose the death penalty. The survey also showed a 4-point drop in death penalty support in just the last three months. In February, 47% of respondents said they preferred the death penalty. Death penalty support was much lower among blacks than among whites, with only 22% of blacks saying they preferred the death penalty over the life-sentence options, compared to 46% of whites. Among various age groups, younger people (age 18-29), showed the lowest support for the death penalty (33%) when compared to life sentences.

Support for Death Penalty Declines in Houston, Texas, As Population Diversifies

SUPPORT AMONG HOUSTON RESIDENTS FOR ALTERNATIVES TO DEATH PENALTY

A recent survey by the Kinder Institute of Houston, Texas, found that more than two-thirds (69%) of area residents preferred alternative sentences over the death penalty, and that number is growing as the population becomes more diverse. The survey asked whether persons convicted of first-degree murder should receive a death sentence, life in prison without parole, or life with the possibility of parole after 25 years. Only 28% of respondents chose the death penalty. Life without parole was the most popular option, receiving 39% support, while life with the possibility of parole was second with 29%. Just four years ago, combined support for alternative sentences was only 54%. The Kinder report noted that in the past three decades the Houston area has been transformed "into the most ethnically and culturally diverse large metropolitan region in the nation." Whites now constitute a minority in every age demographic except those 65 and older. This growing diversity may be a factor in changing attitudes about the death penalty, as public opinion polls consistently show lower support for the death penalty among blacks and Latinos than among whites. In the past, Harris County (Houston) had produced more executions than any other U.S. county, but in recent years there has been a dramatic decline in death sentences.

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