New information released Friday shows that American support for the death penalty continues to fade. This is just the latest evidence that the death penalty is on the decline in the United States, something illustrated by the growing public opposition to executions and the shrinking number of states that have capital punishment. Here are five things to know about the recent decline of the death penalty in this country.
1. More and more Americans oppose the death penalty.
A majority of Americans still support the death penalty, but that number is dropping. This chart the Pew Research Center released on Friday says it all:
Look at the change that has taken place just over the last few years: The percentage who told Pew they support the death penalty dropped to 55 percent in 2013 from 62 percent in 2011. The percentage of Americans who said they opposed it in 2011 rose to 37 percent, up from 31 percent in 2011.
2. There has been a significant shift since the mid-1990s.
If you rewind two decades, the gap between Americans who support the death penalty and those who oppose it has really shrunk. In 1996, 78 percent supported it and 18 percent were against it. That 60-point gap was down to just an 18 percent disparity last year. (Pew has more here about the breakdown across different demographic groups, including various age brackets and political preferences.)
3. More states have banned the death penalty in recent years….
We discussed the declining use of the death penalty in the U.S. earlier, but it is worth repeating: The number of states that don’t have the death penalty is rising: Six of the 18 states that don’t allow capital punishment abolished it between 2007 and 2013. (GovBeat has a nifty look at where the executions in this country have occurred.)
4. …and fewer executions have taken place nationwide.
The number of executions in the United States has dropped fairly significantly in recent years: Between 1997 and 2005, the nation averaged 71.1 executions each year; between 2006 and 2013, that number dropped to 44.3 executions per year.
5. Why the drop in support?
It has less to do with the recent high-profile issues involving lethal injections and more to do with “revelations about mistakes” and wrongful convictions, among other things, according to Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
“People were freed through DNA,” Dieter said. “This was something from the outside that exposed the fallibility of the system.”