Support for the Death Penalty Is Strongest Among Religious White People

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Fewer Americans now favor the death penalty, but support is still strong among religious whites and Republicans. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 55 percent of adults support the death penalty for convicted murderers, while 37 percent oppose it. Whites remain the only racial group in the United States where a majority support the death penalty.

A sharp drop in violent crime, greater media attention given to wrongful convictions, and reports of inhumane and prolonged executions are some of the reasons for a shift in public opinion away for supporting the death penalty since the mid-1990s, Pew reports. 

Across the nation's religious groups, support and opposition varies dramatically.

  • 67 percent of white evangelical Protestants favor the death penalty.
  • 64 percent of white mainline Protestants do.
  • 58 percent of black Protestants oppose the death penalty, making them the group most strongly opposed to it (33 percent support it).  
  • 54 percent of Hispanic Catholics oppose it, while 37 percent support it.

As those numbers suggest, support varies widely among racial groups. In 1996, 56 percent of black people supported the death penalty, while 36 percent do now. Forty percent of Hispanics support it. Twice as many white Americans support the death penalty (63 percent) than oppose it. But even among whites, support has decreased significantly 1996, when a startling majority — 81 percent — of whites favored the death penalty.

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Not surprisingly, there's a political divide, too: 71 percent of Republicans support the death penalty, while only 47 percent of Democrats do.

Evidence suggests that the death penalty continues to be plagued by racial disparities, which may explain differences in support among the country's racial groups. Since 1977, defendants are more likely to be sentenced to death in the U.S. if the murder victim is white, and African-Americans are treated more harshly as defendants, according to Amnesty International. A 2007 study from Yale University School of Life also found that African-American defendants receive the death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in the cases where victims are white.

But several recent cases concerning secrecy around lethal injection drugs point to greater consideration for death row prisoners. In Texas a judge ordered state prison officials to disclose where they bought their last batch of lethal injection drugs from, NBC News reports.  A similar case was ruled in Louisiana, and in Oklahoma, a judge said that secrecy about the drugs is unconstitutional.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.