A strong majority (67%) of Americans currently favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder. According to surveys conducted between April and July 2011, a majorities of virtually every demographic group favor capital punishment. There is also a notable intensity gap in the general population. Three times as many Americans say they strongly favor the death penalty as say they strongly oppose it (33% vs. 11% respectively).
Majorities of all major religious groups favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, but there are large dividesthat run along racial and ethnic lines. The religious groups most likely to support the death penalty are white evangelical Protestants (76%), white Mainline Protestants (73%), and Mormons (69%). Black Protestants (53%), and Latino Catholics (55%) are less likely than other groups to favor the death penalty, but even among these groups, a majority favor it. Jews (58%) are also less likely than most other groups to favor the death penalty.
Higher religious attendance rates are correlated with higher support for the death penalty with one exception. Among white non-Hispanic Catholics, those who attend religious services weekly or more are significantly less likely to favor the death penalty than those who attend less frequently. Roughly three-quarters (76%) of white non-Hispanic Catholics who report rarely attending religious, and 71% of white non-Hispanic Catholics who report attending religious services monthly or a few times a year favor the death penalty, compared to only 54% of white non-Hispanic Catholics who report attending religious services weekly or more.
The ethnic and racial differences in support for the death penalty are large. Seventy-one percent of non-Hispanic white Americans favor the death penalty, compared to 54% of Hispanics and 52% of African Americans.
There are also large partisan differences, although majorities of all political parties support the death penalty for persons convicted of murder. Approximately 8-in-10 Republicans (81%) and those who identify with the Tea Party (79%) favor the death penalty, compared to 66% of independents and 57% of Democrats.
Interestingly, while there are significant gender differences (71% of men vs. 62% of women favor the death penalty), there are no clear generational patterns on this issue. Americans who are part of the Millennial generation (18-29 year olds) are as likely as seniors (age 65 and older) to favor the death penalty (63% vs. 65% respectively).
Source: Public Religion Research Institute, Combined datasets from Millennials, Religion, and Abortion Survey (June 2011) and Millennials, Religion, and Gay & Lesbian Issues Survey (August 2011), N=6,000.