The heading above is the subhead of Gallup’s annual report on what Americans find morally acceptable. The headline is “Republicans, Democrats Differ on What Is Morally Acceptable.” There are differences, to be sure, but also large areas of substantial agreement. As of this writing, the full report is available here, but Gallup’s content is only free for a brief interval and then becomes $ubscriber-only.
Here is the actual survey question: “28. Next, I’m going to read you a list of issues. Regardless of whether or not you think it should be legal, for each one, please tell me whether you personally believe that in general it is morally acceptable or morally wrong. How about – ” The various items then follow in random order, one of which is “The death penalty”
The report says that 71% of the American people overall answered “morally acceptable” to the death penalty. This was the highest level of support for any of the 16 issues in the survey. As is typical in death penalty surveys, this figure understates the actual level of support. Another 5% volunteered the answer “depends on the situation.” Because mandatory death penalties were abolished long ago, “depends on the situation” is a response in line with the current system. The real level of support therefore exceeds three-quarters of the American people, an exceptionally high level of agreement for any controversial issue. Only 22% answered “morally wrong,” with the “duh” contingent coming in at a very low 2%.
By political party, the “morally acceptable” responses came in at 82% of Republicans and persons who lean to the Republican Party and 63% of Democrats plus leaners. Nineteen percent is a significant party spread; only abortion and wearing animal fur had wider spreads in this survey. Yet the more liberal of the two political parties has nearly two-thirds support for the supposedly “conservative” position among its rank and file.
Perhaps the most newsworthy aspect of the poll is the trend line. Opponents of capital punishment have been trying to promote the idea that the tide has turned against it. This poll shows the percentage considering capital punishment to be morally acceptable at the highest level in the six years reported, up 8% from the low. The “unaccepable” view is at a new low, down 9% from its peak.