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CNN Today

Gallup Poll: 66 Percent of Americans Approve of Death Penalty in Cases of Murder

Aired February 24, 2000 - 2:07 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: A majority of Americans approve of the death penalty, but the support is declining.

Gallup Poll Editor in Chief Frank Newport is here with the latest numbers -- Frank.

FRANK NEWPORT, GALLUP POLL EDITOR IN CHIEF: Natalie, you're right. You've summarized it nicely. We have been tracking American attitudes towards the death penalty for almost 50 years. Interestingly, back in 1953 when we first started tracking it, support was about 68 percent for the death penalty for murder. It went down, then it's been back up, actually to 80 percent earlier in the 90s. But in our most recent poll, as you mentioned, a gradual decline, and we're kind of back where we started. Still, however, a very strong majority: 66 percent of Americans, to put the straight facts on it, approve of the use of the death penalty in cases of murder.

Now, we can point out a lot of critics of the death penalty say, well, why don't we instead have life imprisonment with absolutely no possibility of parole? So we asked Americans, if that was the alternative, would you still favor the death penalty? You can see, it's a smaller number than the 66, but still 52 percent of Americans favor it.

Now, here's some very interesting data that we just collected and updated. We asked Americans: Do you think that an innocent person is, at least occasionally, sentenced to death -- that is, incorrectly sentenced to death? And five years ago, 82 percent said that was the case, and now we've gotten 91 percent of Americans who admit that, yes, at least one percent or more of the people on death row are, in fact, innocent.

What's important here, Natalie and Lou, is that of those who favor the death penalty, that number is still 90 percent. In other words, Americans are willing to favor the death penalty even understanding that occasionally it looks like an innocent person might be sentenced incorrectly.

That's where the public stands on this important issue. Back to you in Atlanta.

ALLEN: All right, Frank, thanks.

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