Allahpundit at Hot Air has some interesting thoughts on why support for the death penalty reached an all-time national low of 55 percent in the latest Pew survey, versus 38 percent opposed. (Interesting that so many other issues with considerably less popular support are depicted as urgent priorities that everyone must fall in line with immediately…) Other polls have also detected a downward trend in support for capital punishment over the past few years..
Diving into the poll internals, Allah sees demographic trends: whites tend to be the strongest supporters of capital punishment, by far, but they are a shrinking percentage of the population, while young people tend to oppose the death penalty. He suggests an overall decline in the crime rate might have cooled support, postulating that citizens who feel relatively safe are less likely to insist on executing the worst offenders.
All seem like valid points to me, although I would note that relatively few Americans are aware of the actual overall crime rate; they see tons of bloody local news reports, plus national saturation coverage for crimes the Left finds politically useful, and probably think things are as bad as ever, or maybe getting worse. (Crimes the Left regards as inconvenient, of course, become “local crime stories” that merit no national attention, no matter how gruesome or bizarre they might be. Readers of CNN’s website are still completely unaware of gun-control superstar Leland Yee’s arrest for connections to a gun-smuggling ring and international terrorism, for example.) Do you think most average folks know that the rate of mass shootings has been flat for many years, or might even be declining, depending on how the data is interpreted?
I suggest one other factor for declining death penalty support: the loss of confidence in government overall, and the criminal justice system in particular. Different people are unhappy with the courts for a variety of different reasons, but the overall effect has made a variety of demographic groups uncomfortable with government executions. There are big stories about police shootings that seem dubious, unreasonable, or even downright inexplicable. There have been high-profile stories about overturned convictions and prisoners exonerated after spending years in jail.
And of course, right now all of America is gasping in astonishment at the spectacle of Big Government flat on its face, unable to so much as launch a website with three years of preparation and hundreds of millions of dollars in expense. Loss of confidence in the Leviathan State has been a growing story for years; it’s arguably the driving force behind the Tea Party movement, and finds different means of expression on the Left. The dash of paranoia added by the Surveillance State scandals might also be a factor, particularly with the Internet generation. Even the now-defunct anti-war movement might have planted a few seeds of distrust in government that still flower in the minds of younger liberals, years after that gang of raging hypocrites laid down their protest signs and learned to love war under Barack Obama.
Different people distrust different parts of government for a variety of reasons, but the sum total of their unease might be reflected in diminished (but still majority) support for the ultimate exercise of State power over the individual. Throw in the younger generation’s comfort level with the therapeutic view of heinous crime – only crazy people would do the most horrible things, and crazy people shouldn’t be executed – and we might see the outlines of relatively small, but strengthening, coalition that agrees on little else, except that the government can’t be trusted to administer capital punishment.