CNN Poll: Number who prefer death penalty on decline
October 12th, 2011
05:35 PM ET
3 years ago

CNN Poll: Number who prefer death penalty on decline

(CNN) – When offered a choice between sentencing a murderer to capital punishment or life in prison with no chance of parole, half of all Americans say they prefer a life sentence over the death penalty - the first time that has happened in CNN polling.

Fifty percent would opt for a life sentence; 48% said they would choose the death penalty, revealing a nation divided when it comes to capital punishment.

Full results (pdf)

The remaining two percent had no opinion in the survey released Wednesday.

"That's not to say that Americans want to abolish the death penalty entirely," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "But there is a difference between thinking that the government should have the death penalty as an option and actually wanting to see it applied."

Seven years ago, 56% of the nation said they preferred the death penalty, a number that decreased to 53% in 2009 and to 48% now. At the same time the number of Americans who believe that at least one person in the past five years has been executed for a crime that he or she did not commit increased to 72%.

The issue of the death penalty has even found its way onto the 2012 campaign trail, with some media attention given to the controversy surrounding the execution of death row inmate Todd Willingham. Willingham, who maintained his innocence, received the death penalty while GOP contender Rick Perry served as governor of Texas.

In 2005, when a solid majority preferred the death penalty, 59% believed that an innocent person had been executed within the previous five years. The CNN/ORC International survey reveals that figure has risen thirteen points.

The poll was conducted for CNN by ORC International from September 23-25 among 1,010 adults who were questioned by telephone. It has a sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

– CNN's Rebecca Stewart contributed to this report.


Filed under: 2012 • CNN/ORC International poll • Polls
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    The number of people who support the lying teabaggers is also on the decline. If you want someone who is tough on terror, it is President Obama, not war mongering republicans.

    October 12, 2011 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  2. SOUTHERN HOTTIE

    Repukes are pro-death penalty but anti-choice on abortion rights. What's the difference, GOPT?

    October 12, 2011 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  3. T'sah from Virginia

    @ Southern Hottie

    OMG – You are so doggone right!!! Murder someone with a drop of a hat but go against PRO-Choice!! Are these the Evangelicals out there setting these rules????

    October 12, 2011 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  4. portland tony

    My feelings go from "take a life...lose yours" to complete forgiveness. But if indisputable science can prove a person guilty...Hang em high. Eyewitness and circumstantial evidence only ....prison. And to show I'm human....Those fellows who dragged that poor man behind their pick up and decapitated him...I would have lynched em on the spot.

    October 12, 2011 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  5. Larry L

    The death penalty would be a more reasonable option if it didn't actually cost more than a life sentence. With appeals allowing incarceration for over 20 years, state-funded legal fees, and the higher cost of death-row prisoners, it costs the taxpayer huge bucks to enforce the death penalty. Although a few individuals really, really need to be removed from society, it's unreasonable to sustain their lives for 20 years, pay their lawyers and the court system – then kill them.

    October 12, 2011 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  6. Dan

    Democrats are all against the death penalty no matter how horrendous the crime may be, but they're all for killing an innocent unborn child that has committed no crime at all. Now if that isn't sick thinking, I don't what is.

    October 12, 2011 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  7. Rambling Parry

    After reading about the execution of the 14 year old George Junius Stinney Jr., I vehemently reject the death penalty! Rest in Peace my son.

    October 12, 2011 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  8. CA Dream USA

    Either way the rich lobby for private prisons win.....Billions of federal dollars goes to keep others behind bars for the smallest offenses ..up to e]=death row..Where they charge the tax payers $500.00 for a death inmates final meal......Once again we need to get money out of the courts though judges political parties...And rules that only benefits the rich private prison owners...

    October 12, 2011 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  9. Ed DFWTX

    Repubs cheering Rick Perry and his over 200 executions during one of the debates makes me wonder if all those people were actaully guilty. I seriously doubt Perry did anything other than rubber stamp each execution swince he doesn't seem to have much upstairs. Also, anyone who thinks the death penalty is anything more than pure revenge is smoking somthing wacky.

    October 12, 2011 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  10. gerr

    Thanks half of Americans. Is it an accident that the state that produced a president that started a totally and never justified war is also the state that has statistically executed the most innocent people?

    October 12, 2011 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  11. GuyinVA

    The difference, Southern Hottie, is that someone sentenced to death has been convicted of a heinous crime. The baby being killed is guilty of nothing. It's far easier to explain than the "culture of death" left's idea that an innocent unborn child is deserving of death while a murderer is not. Also, I would imagine that the leftist media's constant drum beat in support of convicted killers may have swayed some who answered the poll. Maybe.

    October 12, 2011 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |