Support For Death Penalty Slips In U.S., But Remains High Among Whites And Republicans
Support for the death penalty is falling in the U.S., but vary widely by race and political party according to a survey of more than 5,000 adults by Pew Research Center conducted in April, as the California Supreme Court considers a challenge that could overturn hundreds of death penalty convictions.
About 60% of U.S. adults favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder (down from 65% in August 2020), including 27% who “strongly favor” it, while 39% oppose the death penalty, including 15% who are “strongly opposed.”
About 78% of U.S. adults said there is some risk that an innocent person could be wrongly executed, and only 21% think there are proper procedures in place to prevent such mistakes
About 85% of Black adults said Blacks are more likely than whites to be sentenced to death for serious crimes, while only 49% of whites hold this view.
On the whole, 63% of American adults said the death penalty does not deter people from committing serious crimes, while about half, 48%, of death penalty supporters hold this view.
Some 77% of Republicans favor the death penalty for murder (down from 84% in 2019) while only 46% of Democrats favor it (down from 49% in 2019).
By race, Whites and Asians (each 63%) and Hispanic adults (56%) favor the death penalty for murder, while 49% of Black adults do.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 22 U.S. states have abolished capital punishment while another 12 states have not carried out an execution in at least ten years. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of California, the state with the highest number of death row prisoners at more than 700, will soon hear arguments to challenge the application of the death penalty, thereby making it potentially harder for courts to impose a death penalty ruling. If successful, the move could lead to overturning hundreds of death penalty sentenceso o the books.The last two governors of the state, Democrats Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom, both oppose the death penalty, and have created a court where five of seven seats are now occupied by Democratic appointees, creating a moderately liberal bench. However, despite California’s large number of death row inmates, the state rarely kills them – only 13 inmates have been executed since 1992. Moreover, in early 2019, Newsom ordered a moratorium on executions during his term in office.
“Our death penalty system has been, by all measures, a failure. It has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation. It has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent. It has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars,” said Newsom when he ordered the moratorium.
In the state of Arizona, outrage has grown as the Department of Corrections reportedly plans to consider using on death row convicts hydrogen cyanide, a lethal gas similar to Zyklon B, which the Nazis used to kill hundreds of thousands of Jews and others at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, told the New York Times that for Auschwitz survivors, the world will “finally come apart at the seams, if in any place on this earth the use of Zyklon B in the killing of human beings is considered again.”
Last year, partly due to the Covid epidemic, 17 people were executed in the U.S., down from 22 in 2019, and the lowest number of executions since 1983, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The 2020 figure included ten executions by federal authorities and seven by states. All state executions in 2020 occurred in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.
25,911. That’s how many prisoners were sitting on death row at the end of 2020, down from 26,561 the prior year. Of the 2020 figure, California (724) and Florida (346) had the highest number of death row inmates.