The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty welcomes the results of a new Pew Research Center poll indicating that opposition to capital punishment has increased significantly. A more detailed study last year indicated that roughly 38% of the public opposed the death penalty. Opposition to the death penalty has hovered around 36%- 38% in various polls for a number of years.
Forty-two percent of the public now opposes the practice without qualification. This is the highest opposition has been since 1972. Opposition to the death penalty is highest among African Americans (63%); Hispanics (50%); 18-29 year olds (51%); college graduates (51%); Catholics (46%) religiously unaffiliated people (50%); women (45%); and Democrats (58%) and Independents (45%).
Support has declined to 49%. This represents a 7 percentage point decline since March of 2015 when 56% of the public supported the practice. The decline in public support mirrors the decline in use of the death penalty. There were 28 executions in 2015 – the lowest number since 1991. Most of Americans don’t live in a place where the death penalty is used. Only a handful of jurisdictions continue to impose death sentences. As the death penalty becomes rarer it can increasingly be seen as an arcane practice that is disconnected from policies that enhance public safety.
This is welcome news as the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty marks 40 years of working to change public opinion and policy on the death penalty. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty was founded in 1976 when the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty in Gregg v. Georgia.
In response, advocates for civil rights and civil liberties established the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty to move public opinion to change that decision. The organization later changed its name to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty to highlight the need to take action to end the practice.
Justice Thurgood Marshall said it well in his dissenting opinion in Gregg v. Georgia:
“The American people, fully informed as to the purposes of the death penalty and its liabilities, would in my view reject it as morally unacceptable.”
Our job for the last 40 years has been to make sure that the public is fully informed about the death penalty and well equipped to do something about it. Mobilizing people who oppose capital punishment has been at the heart of this strategy.
Two years ago, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and over a dozen multi-issue organizations launched the 90 Million Strong Campaign aimed at giving a larger voice to the millions of Americans who oppose the death penalty. The Campaign has grown to include more than 20 national organizations with a collective reach of 90 million people.
It is no longer a question of whether we end the death penalty but when. And the sooner we end the death penalty the sooner we can move this nation forward to invest in solutions that address the root causes of crime and build strong, healthy and safe communities. Today we call on everyone who opposes the death penalty to join our effort. Let’s finish this and move this nation forward!