From The Margins To The Mainstream

Polls Show Growing Opposition To The Death Penalty

By: Matt Nichter

Mounting evidence of injustice in the administration of the death penalty is having a profound impact on popular opinion.

According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken this summer -- in the wake of the execution of Gary Graham in Texas -- 63 percent of those surveyed said they favored a halt on executions nationally. This represents an increase of 26 percentage points in just a couple of months when a similar poll was taken by Newsweek.

And a huge majority of people -- 94 percent -- say they believe innocent people are wrongfully convicted.

Contrary to the stances of the two main contenders in this year's presidential race, a majority of Americans oppose attempts to increase the number of executions taking place, a Harris poll reported in July.

And while most people still say they support capital punishmentl, traditional arguments in favor of the death penalty seem to be losing force. For example, half of those surveyed don't think the death penalty has much, if any, deterrent effect. And 63% said they think that the best way to reduce crime would be to add "more jobs and community programs for young people," according to a Pew Research Center poll.

Opinion polls can't capture the outrage and disgust millions of people feel toward the death penalty. But these results are unmistakable signs that the political winds in this country are shifting rapidly. Abolitionists are moving from the margins to the mainstream.