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Poll: Americans' support for death penalty remains steady at 5-decade low

Nov. 18 (UPI) -- Americans' support of the death penalty has remained relatively unchanged -- and at a five-decade low -- over the past four years, a Gallup poll released Thursday indicates.

The survey found that 54% of American adults favor the use of the death penalty as a punishment for those convicted of murder, down from 55% in 2020. That figure has remained mostly steady since 2017, when there was a 5% drop from 2016.

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Support is at its lowest point since 1972, when 50% of Americans said they favored the death penalty.

Among Republicans, 77% favor the death penalty, while 55% of Independents and 34% of Democrats favor it. By age, 41% of people 18-34 favor the death penalty, while 59% of people age 35 and older favor it.

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Gallup has been asking Americans if they're in favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder since 1936. The highest support was in 1994, when 80% favored it, and the lowest was in 1966, when 42% favored it.

The death penalty has lower support when Gallup asks a similar, but separate, question -- whether Americans support the death penalty when life imprisonment without possibility of parole is offered as an alternative. In 2019, the last time that version of the question was asked, 60% preferred life imprisonment while 36% preferred the death penalty.

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The waning support for the death penalty has coincided with a similar decline in executions carried out each year. There were 17 executions held in 2020, down from 22 held in 2019 and the fewest of any year since 1991. The judicial system imposed 18 new death sentences last year, the fewest in more than four decades, according to a December 2020 report by the Death Penalty Information Center.

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While the COVID-19 pandemic was responsible for delaying some executions and death penalty-eligible trials, the DPIC said the nation was on pace for a near-record low even before the disruption caused by the pandemic.

"At the end of the year, more states and counties had moved to end or reduce death-penalty usage, fewer new death sentences were imposed than in any prior year since capital punishment resumed in the U.S. in 1970s, and states carried out fewer executions than at any time in the past 37 years," DPIC Executive Director Robert Dunham said at the time the report was released.

Gallup surveyed 823 adults between Oct. 1-19 with a 4% margin of error.

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