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CNN Today

Majority of Americans Support Death Penalty

Aired June 21, 2000 - 2:35 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: In Illinois, the governor has issued a moratorium on executions, saying he cannot be sure that innocent people have been put to death while in Texas Governor George W. Bush has presided over a record number of executions, 131. With Bush running for president, questions are swirling about the fairness of capital punishment.

Joining us with a poll on what Americans think, Frank Newport of the Gallup organization.

Frank, hello.

FRANK NEWPORT, EDITOR IN CHIEF, GALLUP POLL: Hello, Natalie. In fact, the American public think that innocent people have been put to death and yet they still support the death penalty. So this is a fitting time to review kind of our year's data on -- on death penalty from the American public's perspective.

Fifty-year trend here: You can see that top-line support for the death penalty for murder has gone up and down. A lot of people have made a lot out of the fact that it was 80 percent in 1994, and in our most recent polling earlier this year it was 66 percent. So, that is a 14 percentage-point drop.

However, we like to emphasize that it's still two-thirds of Americans who support the use of the death penalty in cases of murder.

Now, we did ask another question, which some anti-death penalty people have argued should be the case. That is what about the death penalty versus this alternative, which is a guaranteed life sentence with absolutely no chance of parole. When we give these two as the alternatives, you can see it's down but still a majority, 56 percent support the death penalty.

In fact, when we asked a littler earlier this year should the death penalty be used more often or less often than it is now, we find the public says more often. In fact, you've got 64 percent saying it's not used often enough as it is now. So clearly, there's still this level of support for the use of the death penalty.

But the thing that I mentioned at the outset here, which the Illinois governor talked about, is this whole idea of innocent people being sentenced to death. Well, it's gone up: 82 percent said yes, that was the case a few years ago. Now, in our most recent poll, 91 percent of Americans said, yes, innocent people at least occasionally are sentenced to death. But the key factor is still 66 percent approving, although that number has been going down.

That's where the public stands on this very important issue. Back to you, Lou and Natalie in Atlanta.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Frank Gallup in Newport.

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