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Gallup: View of Death Penalty as Morally OK Unchanged in U.S.

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Jeffrey Jones has this report for Gallup, with the above title.

This report comes from Gallup's annual survey on moral acceptability of various issues, and Americans' views on the death penalty have proven remarkably stable.  I noted this survey on the blog in 2010, and not much has changed.  Here is an updated graph.  Click for a larger view.

Given that current law only allows for the death penalty for an aggravated subset of murders and only after considering the defendant's case in mitigation, I consider the sum of "acceptable" and "it depends" to be the proper measure of support for the death penalty as it exists in America today.  The "depends," BTW, is a "volunteered" answer, given by people who break out of the choices offered by the question to give their own.  These numbers would surely be higher if the choice were offered in the question.

The variation over the last 13 years has barely budged outside the 4% sampling error confidence interval.

Last August, Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport made this short video about how polling shows that public opinion is highly changeable on some issues while it changes very little on others.  Of all the issues Gallup surveys on, Newport chose the death penalty as his example of stability of public opinion.

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I would note two things.

First, opposition to the DP is down, slightly, in each of the last two years. While the decline is so small as to not mean much (from 34% two years ago to 30% now), at the minimum it means that the supposed anti-DP steamroller sweeping across the country is fiction -- like so much else abolitionists say.

Second, there's no big mystery as to why public opinion is stable. There are some crimes so incredibly hideous, like the blowing up of the eight year-old in the Boston Marathon bombing, or some of these child kidnap/torture/murders, that no normal person can stomach it. Since these things happen at pretty regular intervals, support for the DP stays where it is.

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