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After a 20-year decline in favorability, the percentage of Americans who support the death penalty has once again dropped below the 50% mark.
According to a new Pew Research Center poll, just 49% of the US now supports capital punishment.
The last time this few Americans supported the death penalty was 45 years ago, in 1971, when the Baltimore Colts were Super Bowl V champions and Richard Nixon was Time’s Man of the Year.
With a few exceptions, the rate has fallen steadily every year since 1994, when support peaked at 80%.
While the overall rate has fallen considerably since the mid-nineties, politics still play a big role in who supports the death penalty and who doesn’t. In the Pew poll, 34% of Democrats said they support it while 72% of Republicans did.
The declining level of support may stem from recent negative press surrounding the most popular form of the death penalty: lethal injection.
In 2014, multiple inmates on death row were the victims of botched executions when the cocktail of drugs meant to sedate, paralyze, and ultimately kill the men failed to work properly. Some inmates struggled for an hour or more, convulsing on the sedation table before coroners eventually declared them dead of a heart attack.
In the two years since, the US federal government has yet to come up with a widely agreed upon alternative to lethal injection drugs, and so fewer executions are being carried out overall.
In 1999, 98 people received the death penalty. This year, only 15 have met the same fate.