Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris said on Thursday she wants to stop executions at the federal level, drawing further attention to the issue of capital punishment the same week that California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a moratorium on the death penalty.
That will draw a stark contrast on the campaign trail with President Donald Trump, who once took out a full-page ad calling for the death penalty in a New York case, has repeatedly praised the use of executions in foreign countries and lamented Newsom’s moratorium.
But that doesn’t mean it’s only a Democratic idea. Opposition to the death penalty, once considered a liberal rallying cry, has become a bipartisan concern as a growing number of conservatives around the country have adopted it.
“It used to be a litmus test. It used to be everyone had to say they were for the death penalty in some shape or form after Michael Dukakis in 1998 tried to be against the death penalty and got slammed in his debate against George H.W. Bush,” said Carol Steiker, a Harvard law professor who has studied capital punishment. “Things have clearly changed in the 30 years since then.”
The most obvious sign of change can be found in public opinion on the death penalty. In 1994, Gallup found that 80% of Americans favored the death penalty for a person convicted of murder. In 2018, that dropped to 56%. Last year also saw a new low at just 49% of Americans saying they believe the death penalty is applied fairly.
Democrats are still more likely to oppose the death penalty than Republicans, with their support for the punishment dropping 36 percentage points since 1996, according to Pew Research Center. But Republicans’ support also dropped 10 percentage points in that time.
State actions provide another indication of the country’s changing views on capital punishment. The federal government has not executed anyone since 2003, and most executions happen in a small number of states.
In the last decade, 10 states have effectively stopped using the death penalty, through legislative action, court decisions, or by a governor imposing a moratorium, according to Steiker.
Capital punishment sentences have also dropped 90% from 315 people given the death penalty at a modern peak in 1996 to a low of 31 people sentenced to death in 2016, according to the Death Penalty Information Center’s year-end report. …read more
Source:: Time – Politics