The use of the death penalty is gradually disappearing in the United States. Last year, in part because of the coronavirus outbreak, fewer people were executed than in any year in more than three decades.
Yet the death penalty for people convicted of murder continues to draw support from a majority of Americans despite widespread doubts about its administration, fairness and whether it deters serious crimes.
More Americans favor than oppose the death penalty: 60% of U.S. adults favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, including 27% who strongly favor it. About four-in-ten (39%) oppose the death penalty, with 15% strongly opposed, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The survey, conducted April 5-11 among 5,109 U.S. adults on the Center’s American Trends Panel, finds that support for the death penalty is 5 percentage points lower than it was in August 2020, when 65% said they favored the death penalty for people convicted of murder.
While public support for the death penalty has changed only modestly in recent years, support for the death penalty declined substantially between the late 1990s and the 2010s. (See “Death penalty draws more Americans’ support online than in telephone surveys” for more on long-term measures and the challenge of comparing views across different survey modes.)
Large shares of Americans express concerns over how the death penalty is administered and are skeptical about whether it deters people from committing serious crimes.
Nearly eight-in-ten (78%) say there is some risk that an innocent person will be put to death, while only 21% think there are adequate safeguards in place to prevent that from happening. Only 30% of death penalty supporters – and just 6% of opponents – say adequate safeguards exist to prevent innocent people from being executed.