Death Penalty No Longer A Defining Political Issue In U.S.


Crime and drugs were the top issues for voters in 1994. Support for the death penalty peaked that year, at 80 percent, according to Gallup polling, NPR reports. Opposition to the death penalty once cost prominent politicians their jobs, from New York Gov. Mario Cuomo to California Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird. That has changed. Contemporary politicians appear to have paid very little price, if any, for supporting moratoriums on capital punishment, or voting to abolish it altogether.

“It just hasn’t been a salient issue here, despite the governor declaring a moratorium on the death penalty,” says Thomas Ridout, a professor of government and public policy at Washington State University, referring to Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement this year. Crime has declined dramatically since the 1990s, when the death penalty peaked both in popularity and practice. A majority of Americans still favor the death penalty, but its support reached a 40-year low in a Gallup poll last fall. Still, California voters in 2012 rejected a ballot measure that would have ended the death penalty in that state. It lost by only a 4-percentage-point margin, a big change from the 71 percent to 29 percent result when a similar vote took place in 1978.

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