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US Support for Death Penalty Falls to Forty-Year Low

Most Americans still support state sanctioned murder, but progress shows through as troubling numbers continue to fall

- Jon Queally, staff writer

Electric chair strap. (Fanny Carrier/Getty-AFP Photo)According to a new Gallup poll, support for the death penalty in the United States has fallen to its lowest rate in more than four decades.

(Photo: AFP) Though a majority of Americans continue to support a practice that is condemned by human rights advocates and banned in most other highly-developed nations, the 60% approval rating for state murder is the second lowest in nearly eighty years and shows the recent trend against capital punishment continues.

As Gallup reports, the new results show the lowest level of support measured "since November 1972, when 57% were in favor." Gallup explains that though a majority of Americans have always supported it, approval of the death penalty peaked at 80% in 1994, but has gradually declined ever since.

As this graph shows:

According to Agence France-Presse: "Of the 50 US states, 32 implement the death penalty, while 18 plus the federal capital city of Washington have abolished it."

From Gallup:

Americans have typically favored the death penalty; in fact, support has exceeded opposition in all but one survey, conducted in May 1966, during an era marked by philosophical and legal challenges to the death penalty from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s. Americans' support for the death penalty waned during that time. The culmination of that era was the Supreme Court's 1972 Furman v. Georgia decision, which invalidated all state death penalty statutes on technical grounds but stopped short of declaring the practice itself unconstitutional. Four years later, the court ruled that several newly written death penalty laws were constitutional, and executions resumed in the U.S. shortly thereafter.

From then until the mid-'90s, death penalty support climbed, reaching 80% in 1994, a year in which Americans consistently named crime as the most important problem facing the United States.

The current era of lower support may be tied to death penalty moratoriums in several states beginning around 2000 after several death-row inmates were later proven innocent of the crimes of which they were convicted. More recently, since 2006, six states have repealed death penalty laws outright, including Maryland this year.

And as Common Dreams reported on Tuesday, controversies in several states regarding the cocktail of drugs administered to kill convicted criminals have spurred deep concern over the wanton cruelty and inhumanity of the practice.

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