Gallup writes that views on the death penalty in murder cases have "varied substantially" over time. In 1936, the first year Gallup began asking respondents about the death penalty, "59% of Americans supported it and 38% opposed it." This was followed by "a period from the late 1950s to the early 1970s when less than a majority of Americans favored it." And "support climbed to its highest levels from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, including the all-time high of 80% who favored the death penalty in 1994."
The 52 percent who say they believe the penalty is applied fairly also represents a decline from last year, when the figure stood six points higher, at 58 percent. Additionally, 40 percent of Americans state the dealth penalty is not used enough, "the lowest such percentage since May 2001, when Gallup first asked this question." Further, "twenty-five percent say the death penalty is used too often, the highest such percentage yet that Gallup has measured."
Americans view the death penalty issue along strongly partisan lines. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents approve of the practice, as compared with 46% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. Gallup writes: "Additionally, men, whites, and those living in the South and Midwest are among those most likely to support the death penalty."
Gallup conducted the poll following the controversial execution of Troy Davis, who was put to death in Georgia this past September. Politicians' stances on the death penalty may play a role in the upcoming presidential race; at a recent GOP debate, Governor Rick Perry was asked about his views on the practice--and how it is applied in his home state.