Poll Shows More People in US Question Morality of Death Penalty

stop the execution death penalty protesters

Protesters try to stop an execution in Texas © Scott Langley

This May, a Gallup poll showed that only 58% of respondents find the death penalty morally acceptable, a 7% drop from last year and the lowest number since the morality question was first asked in 2001.

This follows a 2010 poll from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) that showed, when given choices, two-thirds support alternatives to the death penalty.  Gallup’s non-morality based poll on the death penalty in 2011, which didn’t offer alternatives, still showed the lowest support for capital punishment since 1972.  That poll was conducted soon after the controversial September 21st execution of Troy Davis despite serious doubts about his guilt.

The question of innocence

Is the drop in belief in the morality of the death penalty related to a growing belief that the innocent can be executed?  There have been 140 people exonerated from U.S. death row since 1973.

Troy Davis

Troy Davis was executed in Georgia in 2011 despite serious doubts of his guilt.

Troy Davis is not the only person who might have been innocent and executed. A few weeks ago a new report was released that detailed how Texas very likely executed an innocent man in 1989 while allowing the guilty party to continue terrorizing his community.

Are the errors in the system piling up to the point where its morality is being called into question?

Racial bias

Besides the possibility of executing the innocent, people could be turning away from the death penalty because of the pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing and imposition of the death penalty.

The single most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is the race of the victims.  Of all inmates put to death, 77% killed white victims but overall about half of murder victims are black.  With the legacy of racism hanging over our criminal justice system, perhaps more people are seeing that it’s wrong to apply the ultimate punishment under this shadow.

If killing is wrong, why do we kill?

Or maybe the death penalty is losing moral support because it just sends the wrong message to society. The classic death penalty abolition refrain “why do we kill people to show killing people is wrong?” may seem like an oversimplified statement of a complex issue, but it’s still a vital question. When you’re doing something as severe as killing a person, you’d better have a good reason.

The death penalty has never been proven to deter or prevent crime, and murder victims’ families are increasingly speaking out against the use of capital punishment in their name.

If you can’t answer the “why” question about the death penalty, then you have to question its morality.

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7 thoughts on “Poll Shows More People in US Question Morality of Death Penalty

  1. It is also interesting to consider whether or not the death penalty is moral regardless of the person's innocence. Obviously killing a potentially innocent person is wrong, but, perhaps even killing a guilty person is wrong…I am all for law and order, but giving a government the ability to take a human being's life is simply frightening.

  2. A large number of religions have come out in opposition to the death penalty. It is hard to believe that Christ himself who was a victim of the death penalty would have been in favor of the death penalty.

  3. More sad news! Idaho is about to kill Richard Leavitt for the murder of Danette Elg tomorrow morning in spite of the evidence of his innocence that went TOTALLY ignored! Elg's family is about to satisfy their revenge against Leavitt and his family by killing him and claiming that "justice will be served in the death of that murderous, heartless monster so we can all get peace and closure" while unknowingly causing Leavitt's family more grief in the loss of their loved one to state-sponsored murder! My heart breaks for both families, and I pray that God may bring them comfort and forgiveness in what they're unknowingly about to do to each other, and I also pray for Leavitt's comfort and forgiveness in the hours leading up to his imminent execution! May God forgive us all for attending the execution of a potentially innocent person, for we all know not what we do! 😥

  4. Not many are discussing the retroactive application of the California Proposition to end the death penalty. What about the families of the victims? Anyone?

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