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Support for death penalty drops to a four-decade low

By David Lauter • Oct 1, 2016 at 7:00 PM

WASHINGTON — Support for the death penalty, which peaked in the mid-1990s, has dropped to a four-decade low, according to new data from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

Just under half of respondents, 49 percent, said they supported capital punishment in murder cases, Pew found, while 42 percent said they opposed it.

The last time opposition to the death penalty was this high was in 1972, the year the Supreme Court in effect banned capital punishment — a hiatus that lasted four years.

Support for the death penalty climbed steadily from the mid-1970s through the 1980s as crime rates rose to historic highs.

Since crime began a long, steady decline in the late 1990s, backing for capital punishment has dropped in polls, and juries have grown increasingly unlikely to impose it. Since 2009, six states have ended capital punishment, bringing to 19 the number that do not authorize it.

As with many issues, a large gap exists between Democrats and Republicans on capital punishment, and that division has widened in recent years. Support for the death penalty has dropped much more among Democrats, only about one-third of whom still back it. Among Republicans, more than seven in 10 back capital punishment. Independents split evenly on the issue.

Men support the death penalty more than women, whites more than blacks or Latinos and older Americans more than those under 30. A more detailed study by Pew last year found that just over seven in 10 Americans said there was some risk of an innocent person being executed and just over six in 10 said they did not believe the death penalty deters serious crime.

The Pew survey was conducted Aug. 23-Sept. 2 and has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points in either direction.

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