POLITICS

Americans Support SCOTUS's Death Penalty Ruling, But Have Complicated Feelings About The Issue

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 29:  An American flag flies over the U.S. Supreme Court June 29, 2015 in Washington, DC. Today the high
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 29: An American flag flies over the U.S. Supreme Court June 29, 2015 in Washington, DC. Today the high court ruled on the controversial drug that was implicated in botched executions, state efforts to reduce partisan influence in congressional redistricting and Environmental Protection Agency limits on the emission of mercury and other toxic pollutants from power plants. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Americans generally agree with the Supreme Court's decision last week to uphold Oklahoma's use of a controversial lethal injection drug, a new poll finds -- but many supporters express some concerns about whether executions could be carried out too painfully, and many are divided over what the main goal of allowing death sentences should be.

In a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, more than 60 percent of Americans say they favor the death penalty in murder cases. By a narrower margin, 47 percent to 36 percent, they also approve of the Supreme Court's ruling on Oklahoma's execution protocol. Lawyers for death row inmates in the state had argued that the use of one of the drugs, midazolam, used for lethal injections constituted "cruel and unusual punishment" because it didn't reliably render inmates unconscious before their deaths.

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court rejected those claims. But in a dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer argued the death penalty itself may inherently constitute a "cruel and unusual punishment."

Just 13 percent of Americans agree with that argument. Forty-two percent, however, say certain methods of execution could be considered cruel and unusual, while 35 percent say a state's use of the death penalty could never fall into that category.

Even most death penalty supporters, including a majority in both parties, agree executions shouldn't be brutal. By a 10-point margin, 51 percent to 41 percent, Americans who favor the death penalty agree that executions should be as quick and painless as possible. Overall, just about a quarter of Americans say "being quick and painless should not be a priority" in determining execution methods.

When presented with a list of six possible reasons for the death penalty to be administered, supporters were divided, with no option garnering more than one-third of the responses. A broad sense of ensuring justice was the most cited option, while fewer than one in 10 named closure for victims' families as a prevailing reason.

While opinions on the death penalty as a whole vary by party, with Republicans considerably more likely to be in favor, there's little difference in rationale among those in each party who back allowing it.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted June 30-July 2 among 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.

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. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the poll's methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov's reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

  • Lethal Injection
    Until 2010, most states used a three-drug combination: an anesthetic (pentobarbital or sodium thiopental), a paralytic agent
    AP
    Until 2010, most states used a three-drug combination: an anesthetic (pentobarbital or sodium thiopental), a paralytic agent (pancuronium bromide) to paralyze the muscle system, and a drug to stop the heart (potassium chloride). Recently, European pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell drugs to the U.S. for use in lethal injections, requiring states to find new, untested alternatives.
  • Gas Chamber
    Gas chambers, like this one pictured at the former Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Mo., were first used in the
    AP
    Gas chambers, like this one pictured at the former Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Mo., were first used in the U.S. in 1924. In the procedure, an inmate is sealed inside an airtight chamber which is then filled with toxic hydrogen cyanide gas. Oxygen starvation ultimately leads to death, but the inmate does not immediately lose consciousness.
  • Electric Chair
    The first electric chair was used in 1890. Electrodes attached to an inmate's body deliver a current of electricity. Sometime
    AP
    The first electric chair was used in 1890. Electrodes attached to an inmate's body deliver a current of electricity. Sometimes more than one jolt is required.
  • Hanging
    Hanging was used as the primary method of execution in the U.S. until the electric chair's invention in 1890. Death is typica
    AP
    Hanging was used as the primary method of execution in the U.S. until the electric chair's invention in 1890. Death is typically caused by dislocation of the vertebrae or asphyxiation, but in cases when the rope is too long, the inmate can sometimes be decapitated. If too short, the inmate can take up to 45 minutes to die.
  • Firing Squad
    This Old West-style execution method dates back to the invention of firearms. In a typical scenario in the U.S., the inmate i
    AP
    This Old West-style execution method dates back to the invention of firearms. In a typical scenario in the U.S., the inmate is strapped to a chair. Five anonymous marksmen stand 20 feet away, aim rifles at the convict's heart, and shoot. One rifle is loaded with blanks.
  • Beheading
    Decapitation has been used in capital punishment for thousands of years. Above is the chopping block used for <a href="http:/
    Wikimedia Commons
    Decapitation has been used in capital punishment for thousands of years. Above is the chopping block used for beheadings at the Tower of London.
  • Guillotine
    Invented in France in the late 18th century during the French Revolution, the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/
    Kauko via Wikimedia Commons
    Invented in France in the late 18th century during the French Revolution, the guillotine was designed to be an egalitarian means of execution. It severed the head more quickly and efficiently than beheading by sword.
  • Hanging, Drawing and Quartering
    A punishment for men convicted of high treason,<a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/171149/drawing-and-quarteri
    Wikimedia Commons
    A punishment for men convicted of high treason, "hanging, drawing and quartering" was used in England between the 13th and 19th centuries. Men were dragged behind a horse, then hanged, disemboweled, beheaded, and chopped or torn into four pieces.
  • Slow Slicing
    Also called <a href="http://www.pratyeka.org/books/australian-in-china/" target="_blank">"death by a thousand cuts,"</a> this
    Carter Cutlery/Wikimedia Commons
    Also called "death by a thousand cuts," this execution method was used in China from roughly A.D. 900 until it was banned in 1905. The slicing took place for up to three days. It was used as punishment for treason and killing one's parents.
  • Boiling Alive
    <a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1333751/boiling" target="_blank">Death by boiling</a> goes back to the fir
    Wikimedia Commons
    Death by boiling goes back to the first century A.D., and was legal in the 16th century in England as punishment for treason. This method of execution involved placing the person into a large cauldron containing a boiling liquid such as oil or water.
  • Crucifixion
    <a href="http://civilliberty.about.com/od/capitalpunishment/ig/Types-of-Executions/Death-by-Crucifixion.htm" target="_blank">
    Wikimedia Commons
    Crucifixion goes back to around the 6th century B.C.used today in Sudan. For this method of execution, a person is tied or nailed to a cross and left to hang. Death is slow and painful, ranging from hours to days.
  • Burning Alive
    Records show societies <a href="http://iws.collin.edu/mbailey/hammurabi's%20laws.htm" target="_blank">burning criminals alive
    Pat Canova via Getty Images
    Records show societies burning criminals alive as far back as the 18 century B.C. under Hammurabi's Code of Laws in Babylonia. It has been used as punishment for sexual deviancy, witchcraft, treason and heresy.
  • Live Burial
    Execution by burial goes back to 260 B.C. in ancient China, when 400,000 were reportedly buried alive by the Qin dynasty. Dep
    Antoine Wiertz/Wikimedia Commons
    Execution by burial goes back to 260 B.C. in ancient China, when 400,000 were reportedly buried alive by the Qin dynasty. Depending on the size of the coffin (assuming there is one), it can take anywhere from 10 minutes to several hours for a person to run out of oxygen.
  • Stoning
    This ancient method of execution continues to be <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/25/us-afghanistan-rights-idU
    Wikimedia Commons
    This ancient method of execution continues to be used as punishment for adultery today.
  • Crushing By Elephant
    This method was commonly used for many centuries in South and Southeast Asia, in which an <a href="http://books.google.no/boo
    Wikimedia Commons
    This method was commonly used for many centuries in South and Southeast Asia, in which an elephant would crush and dismember convicts as a punishment for treason.
  • Flaying
    Records show <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=pFYy5fcvfMoC&pg=PA116&lpg=PA116&dq=punishment+skinning+alive&source=bl
    Michelangelo/Wikimedia Commons
    Records show flaying, the removal of skin from the body, was used as far back as the 9th century B.C.
  • Impalement
    Records show this execution practice used as far back as the 18th century B.C., where a <a href="http://books.google.com/book
    Wikimedia Commons
    Records show this execution practice used as far back as the 18th century B.C., where a person is penetrated through the center of their body with a stake or pole.
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