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Evidence shows widespread support for death penalty

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(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist Seaman Jeremy R. Boan)

This story originally was published by Real Clear Policy.

By Joseph M. Bessette & J. Andrew Sinclair
Real Clear Policy

On July 1, the Biden administration halted the use of the federal death penalty, reversing the Trump administration’s 2020 resumption of executions. The announcement of a moratorium pending a review of “policies and procedures” is less permanent than legislative abolition, but it is unlikely the president could get Congress to end the death penalty. Many Americans support capital punishment; in fact, our research shows that public support for the death penalty is even greater than commonly reported.

Public opinion changes more on some controversial issues than on others. For example, as measured by the Gallup organization, opposition to same-sex marriage declined from nearly 70% in the late 1990s to just about 30% today. In contrast, the percentages of Americans identifying as “pro-choice” and “pro-life” have hardly changed in the last twenty years, with Americans nearly evenly divided. The standard ways of asking about the death penalty have made it look more like same-sex marriage, with large changes in public opinion over the past two-to-three decades, than it looks like abortion. Many have expected that the United States is nearing a tipping point at which opposition to the death penalty will overtake support for it.

The Pew Research Center recently reported that 60% of Americans support the death penalty for murder.

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