A new nationwide poll has found that fewer than half of Americans favor the use of capital punishment for those convicted of murder, falling short of majority support for the first time in 45 years.
According to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, only 49 percent of Americans approve of the death penalty as a consequence for murder convictions, while 42 percent are opposed. The numbers reveal a 7-point drop in support from March of last year. Support peaked at 80 percent in the mid-1990s, when only 16 percent of the population opposed the practice.
Pew surveyed 1,201 adults across the country between Aug. 23 and Sept. 2. The margin of sampling error was 3.2 percentage points. The results, which were released last week, came at a pivotal time for capital punishment policy in California. Two measures relating to the death penalty will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.
These new numbers correlate with a steady decline in executions nationwide, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. There have been 15 executions in 2016 so far, the lowest number since 1991. In 1998, executions peaked at 98.
Pew also found that Republicans were more likely to support the practice, with 72 percent in favor, while only 34 percent of Democrats felt the same. But both of these figures have also dropped significantly from two decades ago when Republican support hovered at 87 percent and Democratic support sat at around 71 percent.
According to the poll, men are more likely to support the death penalty than women, as are whites compared to blacks and Hispanics. About 42 percent of people between 18 and 29 support capital punishment, while 51 percent of those over 30 support the practice.
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On California's ballot, Proposition 62 would repeal the state's death penalty for those convicted of murder and replace it with a maximum punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole. If this measure is approved by voters, it will also apply retroactively to those already sentenced to execution.
Another measure, Proposition 66, would keep the death penalty in place and accelerate its process, capping at five years the amount of time that those sentenced can challenge the punishment.
Currently, 40 percent of voters appear to favor Proposition 62, with 51 percent of voters opposing the measure, according to a September poll by USC Dornsife and the Los Angeles Times. For Proposition 66, 35 percent of people support the measure, while 23 percent oppose it and 42 percent remain undecided, according to The Field Poll/IGS Poll.
The measures are mutually exclusive. If they both pass, the proposition with the most "yes" votes will supersede the other. If neither measure is approved, current capital punishment policies will remain in place for California.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the dates of the Pew poll. It was conducted between Aug. 23 and Sept. 2. It also misstated how long it’s been since the number of executions was as low as it is in 2016. It was 1991.