The poll, which was conducted with 1,019 adults between October 1 and 10, revealed that 49 percent of Americans believe the death penalty is applied fairly, while 45 percent say it is not. Out of the Republicans polled, 73 percent said that the death penalty is applied fairly, which is more than twice as large as the percentage of Democrats who agreed (31 percent).v
Twenty-nine percent of those surveyed said that the death penalty is imposed "too often," while 37 percent said that it is not applied often enough. That 37 percent marks a sharp drop from a high of 53 percent who said the death penalty was not applied enough in 2005 and is almost the lowest reading since 2001 (by one point)
According to Gallup, Americans' changing viewpoints on the death penalty may be due to stories about people sentenced to death who were later found to be innocent. A 2014 Gallup poll found that around one in six people were against the death penalty because of concerns that the defendants might be innocent.
People's viewpoints may also be influenced by high profile death penalty cases, like that of Vernon Madison in Alabama, Gallup noted. Madison, who has been in jail for 33 years and has suffered multiple strokes and brain damage, "can't tell you the season, the day of the week or recite the alphabet beyond ‘G,' " Sputnik reported earlier this month, citing arguments made by Madison's lawyers. The 68-year-old prisoner is not even aware that he's due to be executed for killing a police officer in 1985, raising the question about whether it is inhumane to execute people who cannot even rationally fathom their execution.
The poll, which has a margin error of four percentage points, was conducted before the Washington state Supreme Court ruled on October 11 that the death penalty is unconstitutional, rendering it the 20th US state to ban capital punishment
"The death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner," the justices wrote in their unanimous ruling. "While this particular case provides an opportunity to specifically address racial disproportionality, the underlying issues that underpin our holding are rooted in the arbitrary manner in which the death penalty is generally administered."
Capital punishment is currently used in 30 US states. Twenty people were executed and 39 sentenced to death across the US in 2017, which was the second-lowest annual total since 1972, Sputnik reported earlier this month. More than 800 people have been executed in the United States in the past 15 years, according to the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center.