Public opinion: debate over the death penalty

The debate over the death penalty today is driven by public opinion, as it has always been. The abolitionists and retentionists frequently cite ethical and philosophical works to support their respective arguments in the dispute. On the other side, legislators rely on public opinion when debating issues involving the death sentence. Public opinion is a key factor in judicial decision-making, and society's values are utilized to determine how credible a judgement is. This essay's goal is to evaluate public opinion on the death penalty by looking at social science research and surveys done by other scholars.

Public Opinion on the Death Penalty

According to Burgason et al., 65% of Americans approve the execution of murderers. Those who do not believe in death penalties are concerned about untrue capital convictions where one is found innocent later. Others note that there are alternatives to capital punishment. Studies done in 1994 showed that 50% of the survey population favored the death penalty and 32% would like the criminals not to face parole sentences. Polls conducted ten years later in 2004 reported an increase in backing for life without parole at 46%. The study also revealed that public opinion on the death penalty had changed with only 35% believing in its deterrent effect as compared to 61% who believed in the death penalty in 1986 ("Capital Punishment In Context").


Public opinion concerning capital punishment differs with each party placing their argument on social and psychological effects of the penalty. The primary concern is the wrongful conviction of innocent people who are at a risk of a death sentence. Nevertheless, public support for the death penalty has declined, and this is expected with the rise in some organizations fighting for human rights. The death penalty might deter someone from committing murder, but once life is taken, it can never be restored.

Works Cited

Burgason, Kyle A., and Lynn Pazzani. “The Death Penalty: A Multi-Level Analysis of Public Opinion”. American Journal of Criminal Justice, vol 39, no. 4, 2014, pp. 818-838. Springer Nature,

Capital Punishment in Context. “Public Opinion and the Death Penalty”. Capitalpunishmentincontext.Org, 2017, Accessed 21 June 2017.

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