Oklahoma Incident Not a Death Knell for the Death Penalty

On behalf of NBC News, Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research Associates conducted a survey May 7-10, 2014. The survey, found here, measured attitudes about the death penalty and awareness of a recent lethal injection mishap in Oklahoma.


1) A majority (59{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of voters support the death penalty for persons convicted of murder.

According to Pew Research Center polling among all adults, support for the death penalty in cases of murder has slid from 78{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} in 1996 to 55{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} in April 2013.

chart 1

This survey’s finding of 59{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} support suggests there has been no significant shift in attitudes on this issue. There is a sharp partisan segmentation on this issue as well as sharp differences by ethnicity.

chart 2

Twenty-eight percent (28{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of voters (including 37{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of those in favor and 17{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} opposed to the death penalty) choose as the strongest argument in support of the death penalty that “it is the appropriate consequence for someone convicted of murder.”

chart 3

Thirty-five percent (35{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of voters, regardless of their support or opposition to the death penalty, choose as strongest argument against the death penalty that “it carries the risk of killing someone who was wrongly convicted.”

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2) One-in-four (25{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) voters reported hearing “a lot” about the Oklahoma incident.

Voters were asked if they had seen, read, or heard “news coverage about recent lethal injection execution in Oklahoma that did not work as planned.”

Compared to other news stories, recall of news of this incident ranks relatively low.

chart 5

3) More than six-in-ten (61{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) voters support administering the death penalty by other methods if lethal injection is not an option while 33{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of voters would have executions stopped all together.

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4) Americans are split on whether life in prison or execution is a worse punishment for someone convicted of murder.

For about half of voters (48{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) execution is seen as a worse punishment while for 46{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of voters life in prison is seen as a worse punishment. Among those who favor the death penalty, 57{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} say the death penalty is worse while among those who oppose the death penalty, 61{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} say life in prison is worse.

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Bottom line

Overall, attitudes about the death penalty have not fundamentally changed following the recent lethal injection incident in Oklahoma. However, sharp differences do exist by political partisanship and by ethnicity on this issue. Voters are split on whether execution or life in prison is worse punishment for those convicted of murder. Still, even if lethal injection were no longer a viable method, most voters say that, in states where it is law, the death penalty should be carried out by other methods.

Public Opinion Strategies