From the floor of the Senate last week, Bernie Sanders made an unusual proposal for a presidential candidate.

"I believe the time is now for the United States to end capital punishment," Sanders said. "Right now, virtually every Western industrialized country has chosen to end capital punishment. I would rather have our country stand side-by-side with European democracies rather than with countries like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others who maintain the death penalty.

"I know that this is not necessarily a popular point of view," he noted, "but it is in my view the right point of view."

It is not a popular point of view. In its most recent polling, Gallup found that 37 percent of Americans opposed the death penalty, compared to 61 percent who supported it.

What's interesting is that support has declined slightly since the peak of the 1990s crime wave -- but has fallen much more slowly than crime numbers. In other words, support for the death penalty rose as crime rose -- but as crime has fallen, support for the death penalty hasn't fallen as much.


It's also worth noting the offset between the rate of violent crime and the number of actual executions. The peak number of executions was in 1999, eight years after the peak in the crime rate. (This is due in part to the lengthy -- and growing -- time between sentencing and execution.)



Where Sanders's argument is most potent is with the voters he most wants to win over during the next four months: Democrats. In April, Pew Research found that only 40 percent of Democrats back the death penalty at this point, compared to 71 percent in 1995. That's a 44 percent decrease (which, incidentally, is much closer to the overall drop in the crime rate).

Sanders was responding to comments made by Hillary Clinton in the middle of last week, in which she stated that she didn't agree with how the death penalty had been applied, though she supports it as an option. According to Death Penalty Info, more than one-third of those executed since the death penalty was reinstated in the mid-1970s have been black. Blacks make up 13.2 percent of the country's population.

Clinton isn't alone in her attitude. On Sunday, Jeb Bush told "Meet the Press" that he was similarly conflicted. "[W]e should reform it," he told NBC's Chuck Todd -- citing the length of time it takes to resolve death penalty cases.

That doesn't seem to be something that most Republicans will agree on. According to Pew, 77 percent of Republicans support the death penalty -- a figure that's higher than the level of support among Democrats at the peak of the national crime wave.