Though most Americans still favor the death penalty for people who have been convicted of murder, support for the punishment is at its lowest rate in 40 years.
A new survey from Pew Research Center found 56 percent of people favor the death penalty while 38 percent are opposed. In contrast, 62 percent of people supported the death penalty in 2011.
At its highest point, 1996, 78 percent of people surveyed favored the death penalty and just 18 percent were opposed.
Democrats have contributed to the decline of the death penalty’s popularity. Just 40 percent of Democrats favor the death penalty while 56 oppose it. In 1996, 71 percent of Democrats still favored the death penalty.
Republican support for the death penalty also decreased. In comparison to the 2011 survey, Republican support dropped from 79 percent to 77 percent. Conservative Republicans saw a much larger drop — 84 percent supported the death penalty in 2011, but that number has dropped to 77 percent.
Though 71 percent of respondents admitted there’s a risk that an innocent person could be put to death, 26 percent said there are safeguards to ensure that doesn’t happen. However, innocent people have been put to death before on potentially false evidence.
Less than two weeks ago, the Justice Department and FBI formally acknowledged nearly every examiner in an FBI forensic unit gave bad testimony based on shoddy forensic evidence over a period of two decades. Of the 268 trials the unit in question participated in, 32 defendants were sentenced to death. Of those convicted, 14 people have either died in prison or have been executed.