Tipping point

For the first time in over 40 years, less than half of America supports the death penalty

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America is among the top ten countries in the world for executions, according to Amnesty International, putting us in august company alongside China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. A new opinion poll suggests Americans are getting increasingly tired of being a part of that fraternity.

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found support for the death penalty among Americans was at its lowest point in four decades, with 49% in favor of it and 42% opposed. That’s still a near-majority of Americans okay with institutional execution, but it’s a far cry from the mid-1990s, where at one point 80 percent supported the death penalty, and only 16 percent opposed it.

The last time this many Americans were opposed to the death penalty was the late 1960s, when 47% were in favor and 42% opposed.

Support still runs primarily along partisan lines, with Republicans supporting the death penalty by 72%. But Democrats have largely soured on the practice since the 90’s, as have independents, leading to the change in numbers.

Pew released the poll results on the first day of a new Supreme Court term that will see two death penalty case appeals—both from Texas.

One case involves Duane Buck, who was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend and one of her friends in 1995. During the sentencing phase of his trial, the prosecutor asked a psychiatrist, Dr. Walter Quijano, “The race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons — is that correct?” Dr. Quijano answered “yes.”

The other case involves Bobby J. Moore, who has been on death row since 1980 for shooting a supermarket clerk during a robbery. The courts have been debating over whether Moore possesses an intellectual disability that should disqualify him from execution.

When Moore was first sentenced, support for the death penalty was in the mid-60 percent range. Things have changed a lot since then.

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