A slight majority (54%) of U.S. adults support the death penalty, according to a Gallup report published Nov. 19.
This rate is essentially unchanged in recent years – declining two points since 2018 – and it is the lowest level of support since 1972 when 50% affirmed the death penalty.
The all-time high level of support was 80% in 1994, while the all-time low was 42% in 1966.
When Gallup began polling this subject in 1936, 59% of adults approved of the death penalty.
Support increased to 68% by the mid-1950s, before declining over the next decade. In the late-1960s, support began to slowly rise again, reaching an apex in the mid-1990s before a steady decline began over the next two and half decades.
The report suggests that court cases questioning the constitutionality of the death penalty likely factored into the lower levels of support beginning in the late-1950s. When the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that death penalty statutes in several states were constitutional, support began to increase.
The more recent decline, Gallup suggests, could be the result of increased scrutiny regarding the methods used to execute prisoners and of cases in which “death row” inmates were later exonerated.
Men (59%) were more likely than women (50%), white respondents (59%) were more likely than people of color (45%), and adults 55 or older (61%) were more likely than those between 35-54 (58%) or 18-34 (41%) to support capital punishment.
Republicans (77%) were more likely than both Independents (55%) or Democrats (34%) to support the death penalty.
In Oct. 2018, Gallup published survey results that revealed the lowest level of confidence in the death penalty being applied fairly in polling history. Only 49% said that “the death penalty is applied fairly,” which was the first time that less than half the nation affirmed this view.
A June 2021 report from Pew Research Center found 60% of U.S. adults supported the death penalty, with a margin of error of plus-or-minus 2.1%.
Gallup’s death penalty survey has a plus-or-minus 4% margin of error, so all three surveys are closely aligned in their findings on current public support for capital punishment.