The percentage of Americans who support the death penalty has hardly budged since 2008, despite four recent cases in which botched executions left inmates gasping for air during their prolonged deaths and critics screaming foul.
Sixty-three percent of people in the U.S. favor the death penalty, according to a Gallup poll released Thursday, a percentage similar to 2008 but lower than in the 1980s and 1990s when support for capital punishment was at an all-time high. Since polling on the issue began in 1937, only once, in 1966, did those who oppose the death penalty outnumber its supporters.
Americans who back the death penalty most often cite “an eye for an eye” as the reason they support executions for convicted murderers, while those who object to the death penalty most often cite that it’s “wrong to take a life,” according to Gallup.
Complicating the matter, more than 4 percent of people who are sentenced to death are innocent, according to a report published by the National Academy of Sciences, which noted that the figure was likely a “conservative” estimate.
Still, death penalty opponents can take solace in the fact that over the last two decades support for capital punishment has slumped from a high of 80 percent in 1994.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), said in a statement that capital punishment’s reduction in popularity has led to policy changes across the U.S.
“This overall decline in public support is…reflected in the decrease in executions, death sentences, and the number of states carrying out the death penalty,” he said.
In May, Maryland became the 18th state to abolish the death penalty, following lawmakers in Connecticut and Illinois who in recent years deemed the punishment unlawful.
On April 29, Clayton Lockett — who was convicted of first-degree murder, rape and robbery — writhed, moaned and clenched his teeth before he was pronounced dead about 43 minutes after his execution began. It was the first time Oklahoma used the sedative midazolam, a new drug used in a cocktail of noxious substances administered in executions.
The drug was also used to execute an Ohio inmate in January and an Arizona prisoner in July. Each time, witnesses said the inmates appeared to gasp after their executions began and continued to labor for air before being pronounced dead — an experience that anti-death penalty activists have deemed “inhumane.”
With wire services