The opinion of the American public on the death penalty has changed greatly over time. It hit its low of 42 percent in 1966, and reached its highest point at 80 percent 1994. Currently, 60 percent of Americans support the death penalty. In recent years, six states have abolished the death penalty, and no new states have enacted it. Most of these states were Democratic leaning states. For the same reasons, Republican states have more prisoner executions than Democratic states. While thirty two U.S. states have the death penalty as part of their legal code, 1,110 of the 1,359 executions conducted since 1979 have occurred in Republican-dominated states. 508 of these were conducted in Texas.
Republican support for the death penalty currently sits at 76 percent, which is down from 85 percent two decades ago. Republican views on the death penalty have decreased in support far less than the views of their democratic counterparts.
Republicans support the death penalty. Much of this support is to help victims of violent crimes. In the 2004 Republican Party Platform, Republicans stated, “The Republican Party and President Bush support a federal Constitutional amendment for victims of violent crime that would provide specific rights for victims protected under the U.S. Constitution. We support courts having the option to impose the death penalty in capital murder cases.” They also believe that the death penalty deters future crimes, stating “We agree that the best way to deter crime is to enforce existing laws and hand down tough penalties against anyone who commits a crime with a gun.” While many Democrats oppose the death penalty because they don’t believe that it helps prevent crimes, Republicans argue that stricter punishments are, indeed, a deterrent. They prove this by stating “Since Project Safe Neighborhoods was instituted in 2001, hundreds of new federal, state, and local prosecutors have been hired to target criminals who use guns. Prosecutions are up 68 percent, and the violent crime victimization rate is down 21 percent.”
One of the biggest factors that is causing Americans to lose faith in the death penalty is the recently botched execution of Clayton Lockett in the state of Oklahoma. On April 29, 2014, Lockett was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection. The technician struggled to find a place to insert the IV into Lockett, which caused the execution to start late. Lockett unconscious was deemed unconscious ten minutes after being administered a sedative. Three minutes later he began to have a “violent reaction,” 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.” The technician 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. His execution was cancelled 33 minutes after he was given the injection. However, Lockett suffered a heart attack shortly thereafter, and died.
While events like these aren’t frequent, they make many Americans concerned about the death penalty. Many Americans consider executions gone wrong as “cruel and unusual punishment.” This means that many 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. Many Americans also oppose the death penalty due to a fear of wrongfully executing convicted criminals. Since 1976, twelve people who were eventually proved innocent and released were sentenced to death in the state of Texas alone. 27 percent of Americans said they opposed the death penalty because it was immoral or not within the rights of citizens. Another 27 percent opposed it due to the “imperfect nature” of the justice system, according to a recent Pew survey. Even Republicans, who tend to support the death penalty to a greater extent than Democrats, struggle with these issues. After a recent Chicago Tribune article exposed mistakenly executed convicts, Republican Governor George Ryan fighting to abolish the death penalty in the state of Illinois.
Mitt Romney on the Death Penalty
Mitt Romney believes in the death penalty in cases if heinous crimes. In his time as Governor of Massachusetts, he has brought forth legislature to enact the death penalty in such cases. He stated, “the appropriate response of society to terrorism carried out around the world or within the Commonwealth’s borders is to apply the death penalty. That is why the legislation I filed in April accounts for terrorism, along with a small number of other crimes, including the assassination of a law enforcement officer, judge, juror or prosecutor, for the purpose of obstructing an ongoing criminal proceeding. My legislation would also allow juries to consider the death penalty in cases that involve prolonged torture or multiple murders, as well as cases in which the defendant has already been convicted of first-degree murder or is serving a life sentence without parole.”
George Bush on the Death Penalty
Former President Bush is a supporter of the death penalty, though he does believe that DNA testing should be implemented before the death penalty is used. He stated, “In America, we must make doubly sure no person is held to account for a crime he or she did not commit, so we are dramatically expanding the use of DNA evidence to prevent wrongful conviction.” He also supported funding the use of DNA testing for use in death penalty cases. During Bush’s time as governor of Texas, the state had the most executions in the nation. When asked about this number, Bush responded, “I do believe that if the death penalty is administered swiftly, justly and fairly, it saves lives. My job is to ask two questions. Is the person guilty of the crime? And did the person have full access to the courts of law? And I can tell you, in all cases those answers were affirmative.” Unlike some other Republicans, who support the death penalty for the sake of victims and their families, Bush supports it as a means to prevent future crimes. He has stated, “I don’t think you should support the death penalty to seek revenge. I don’t think that’s right. I think the reason to support the death penalty is because it saves other people’s lives.”
- Americans’ Support for Death Penalty Stable – Gallup
- What it was like watching the botched Oklahoma execution – The Washington Post
- Republican Party on Crime – On The Issues
- George W. Bush on Crime – On the Issues