America’s opinions on the death penalty have fluctuated greatly over the years. It has been as low as 42 percent in 1966, and reached its height at 80 percent 1994. Currently, 60 percent of Americans support the death penalty. The Democratic Party is in support of the death penalty. The party’s support has diminished over the last 20 years, currently sitting at 49 percent (20 years ago it was at 75 percent). Many Democrats have begun to prefer the option of life imprisonment, according to recent Gallup polls. Consequently, most states that have abolished the death penalty in the last few years have been Democratic leaning states. Since 2007, six states have gotten rid of the death penalty, with no new states adopting it.
Democratic views on the death penalty revolve around the opinion that it must only be used in certain cases. The 2012 Democratic Party Platform stated, “we believe that the death penalty must not be arbitrary. DNA testing should be used in all appropriate circumstances, defendants should have effective assistance of counsel, and the administration of justice should be fair and impartial.” Previous Democratic platforms have stated, “in all death row cases, we encourage thorough post-conviction reviews. We will put the rights of victims and families first again. And we will push for more crime prevention, to stop the next generation of crime before it’s too late.” As a party, Democrats believe that stricter punishment, such as the death penalty, work as a preventative measure to keep crime from happening to begin with.
However, not all Democrats share this view. Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsome of California says, “I think we should repeal the death penalty. It’s not a deterrent; there are racial components to it.” Martin O’Malley, governor of Maryland, believes similarly. He says “It’s wasteful. It’s ineffective. It doesn’t work to reduce violent crime.”
Democrats strongly support the death penalty in cases of those who have murdered policemen and terrorists. Bill Clinton and Al Gore fought to have this punishment put into place for these criminals. The party is currently divided on whether or not the death penalty should be applied to all convicted murderers.
One of the biggest factors that is reducing support of the death penalty is the recent execution of Clayton Lockett in the state of Oklahoma. On April 29, 2014, Lockett was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection. The execution ran late, because the technician struggled to find a place to insert the IV. A drug to knock Lockett unconscious was administered, and after ten minutes, he was deemed unconscious. After three minutes, he began to have a “violent reaction.” He began seizing, and mumbling incoherently. A journalist who was attending the execution stated, “He looked like he was in pain to me. “How much pain, nobody knows but him.” After examining the IV, it was determined that “the blood vein had collapsed, and the drugs had either absorbed into tissue, leaked out or both,” and the lethal injection had not made if fully into Lockett’s system. 33 minutes after he was administered the lethal injection, his execution was cancelled. Ten minutes later, Lockett suffered a massive heart attack, and was pronounced dead.
While events like these aren’t frequent, they make many Americans concerned about the death penalty. Botched executions are considered “cruel and unusual punishment” by many, and a large percentage of Americans would rather see life imprisonment than risk seeing a fellow human subjected to an experience similar to Lockett’s. This event has most certainly led to a decline in support for capital punishment. Likewise, many Americans fear wrongfully executing convicted criminals. In fact, 27 percent of Americans said they opposed the death penalty because it was immoral or not within the rights of citizens, and another 27 percent opposed it due to the “imperfect nature” of the justice system, according to a recent Pew survey. These concerns are not restricted to the Democratic Party, either. A recent Chicago Tribune article exposed mistakenly executed convicts, which led to Republican Governor George Ryan fighting to abolish the death penalty in the state of Illinois.
Barack Obama on the Death Penalty
President Obama is a supporter of the death penalty in certain cases, stating, “I believe that the death penalty is appropriate in certain circumstances. There are extraordinarily heinous crimes, terrorism, the harm of children, in which it may be appropriate.” However, he voted against expanding the death penalty in cases of less severe crimes during his time as a state legislator. He does not believe that the death penalty prevents crime, but rather believes that these crimes simply deserve such a punishment. Obama states, “While the evidence tells me that the death penalty does little to deter crime, I believe there are some crimes—mass murder, the rape and murder of a child—so heinous, so beyond the pale, that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage by meting out the ultimate punishment.”
Obama called the incident in Oklahoma “deeply disturbing,” and has asked for a review of execution policies across the country. A Justice Department spokesperson has stated that “the department will expand this review to include a survey of state-level protocols and related policy issues.”
Obama also sees cause for concern with other aspects of the death penalty. He says, “In the application of the death penalty in this country, we have seen significant problems — racial bias, uneven application of the death penalty, you know, situations in which there were individuals on death row who later on were discovered to have been innocent because of exculpatory evidence. And all these, I think, do raise significant questions about how the death penalty is being applied.”
Hillary Clinton on the Death Penalty
Hillary Clinton is a strong supporter of the death penalty. However, like the rest of her party, she believes that it should be implemented with restrictions. She is a supporter and cosponsor of the Innocence Protection Act, which implements the restriction of requiring DNA evidence for an execution. This bill also provided funding for DNA testing for those facing the death penalty. During her time as first lady, she lobbied for President Clinton’s crime bill, which expanded the number of crimes which were subject to the death penalty.
- Democratic Party on Crime – On The Issues
- Americans’ Support for Death Penalty Stable – Gallup
- What it was like watching the botched Oklahoma execution – The Washington Post
- Voters, some Democratic politicians swinging against the death penalty – LA Times
- Obama Orders Policy Review on Executions – The New York Time
- Hillary Clinton on Crime – On The Issues