The Evolution of Public Opinion on the Death Penalty in the United States (2024)


In April 2021, a Pew Research Center survey revealed intriguing insights into U.S. adults' perspectives on the death penalty. This contentious issue, deeply embedded in the nation's history, reflects a nuanced landscape of shifting opinions and policy changes. As we delve into the intricacies of public sentiment and legal developments, it becomes apparent that the death penalty's trajectory is far from linear.

Public Opinion: A Complex Tapestry

Sixty percent of U.S. adults express some level of support for the death penalty, particularly in cases involving convicted murderers. However, this overarching approval masks a nuanced landscape. A critical revelation is the link between moral justification and support—64% believe the death penalty is morally justified when addressing heinous crimes like murder.

Racial Disparities and Deterrence Doubts

Despite the overall support, concerns about fairness linger. Over half of respondents (56%) believe Black individuals are more likely to receive death sentences for similar crimes than their White counterparts. Furthermore, a substantial majority (63%) doubts the death penalty's effectiveness as a deterrent to serious crimes, highlighting skepticism about its utility.

Political, Educational, and Ethnic Variances

Unsurprisingly, disparities in opinion emerge across political, educational, and ethnic lines. Republicans and those with less formal education are more likely to support the death penalty, with a notable 77% approval among the former group. Striking variations also surface among religious affiliations, reflecting a complex interplay of beliefs in shaping public opinion.

Shifting Landscapes: Legal Reforms and Abolitions

While 27 U.S. states and the federal government still authorize the death penalty, the frequency of executions varies drastically. Recent years have witnessed a wave of legislative and judicial changes, with Virginia abolishing capital punishment in 2021, joining a growing list of states rejecting the death penalty.

Declining Death Sentences and Executions

The decline in death sentences is evident, with a notable drop from over 320 annually in the mid-'90s to 31 in 2019. Prosecutors in some cities, such as Orlando and Philadelphia, have actively eschewed seeking the death penalty due to concerns about its application.

Federal Government's Role: Trump vs. Biden

In contrast to the overall decline, the federal government, under President Donald Trump, executed 10 individuals in 2020, a stark departure from the limited executions preceding his term. However, the Biden administration, signaling a shift, imposed a moratorium on federal executions in July 2021, initiating a policy review.

Time on Death Row: A Prolonged Wait

The average time between sentencing and execution has seen a significant spike since the 1980s. In 1984, it stood at 74 months, soaring to 264 months by 2019. This prolonged period is attributed to legal appeals, challenges to execution protocols, and debates over lethal injection methods.


The landscape of the death penalty in the United States is undergoing a dynamic transformation, shaped by shifting public opinions, legal reforms, and political decisions. As we navigate these complexities, it's clear that the conversation around capital punishment transcends simplistic narratives, weaving together a tapestry of ethical considerations, racial disparities, and evolving policy landscapes.

The Evolution of Public Opinion on the Death Penalty in the United States (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Gov. Deandrea McKenzie

Last Updated:

Views: 6397

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (66 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Gov. Deandrea McKenzie

Birthday: 2001-01-17

Address: Suite 769 2454 Marsha Coves, Debbieton, MS 95002

Phone: +813077629322

Job: Real-Estate Executive

Hobby: Archery, Metal detecting, Kitesurfing, Genealogy, Kitesurfing, Calligraphy, Roller skating

Introduction: My name is Gov. Deandrea McKenzie, I am a spotless, clean, glamorous, sparkling, adventurous, nice, brainy person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.