Americans Favor The Death Penalty, But Few Want The Executed To Suffer

01/25/2014 08:54 am ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Most Americans favor the death penalty as a punishment for people convicted of murder, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll. But the poll also finds that few people want to inflict unnecessary pain on those who are executed.

According to the poll, 62 percent of Americans favor the death penalty for people who are convicted of murder, while only 26 percent are opposed. That support crossed party lines -- 87 percent of Republicans, 58 percent of independents and 51 percent of Democrats said that they were in favor of execution as a punishment for murder.

The survey found that lethal injection is the most favored method of execution among Americans by far, and the only one approved of by at least half of Americans. Fifty-four percent of respondents said that they approved of lethal injection as a method of execution, including 44 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of independents and 79 percent of Republicans.

But a significant number of those polled said that just because a prisoner should be put to death doesn't mean he or she needs to suffer.

Forty-three percent of respondents said that execution methods should be as quick and painless as possible, while just 11 percent wanted them to be as slow and painful as possible, and 8 percent weren't sure. Another 38 percent weren't asked the question because they said they were opposed to the death penalty, or they weren't sure if they were in favor of it or not.

The poll was conducted after the execution of Dennis McGuire, an Ohio inmate who reportedly gasped for air and took 26 minutes to die after being injected with an untested cocktail of lethal injection drugs last week.

States that allow the death penalty have struggled in recent years to find drug combinations that guarantee a quick and painless death, after European manufacturers cut off supplies to drugs previously used for execution by lethal injection.

If Americans were to come to view lethal injection as too slow and painful, the poll shows little support for other methods that might take its place. No other method of execution, including hanging, gas chambers, the electric chair, firing squads and beheading, received the support of more than 35 percent of Americans in the poll.

Much of that support was clustered among Republicans, of whom 54 percent said they would approve of the electric chair and 51 percent said they would approve of gas chambers as a method of execution. Among Democrats and independents, no alternative method of execution received more than 34 percent approval.

The poll also found that for most Americans, life in prison without a chance of parole actually sounds like a worse form of punishment than execution. Asked which of the two they personally thought would be worse, only 30 percent of respondents said execution, while 52 percent said that life in prison with no possibility of parole would be the worse form of punishment.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Jan. 18-19 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling.

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