Rick Bowmer, Associated Press
This Nov. 18, 2011 file photo shows the execution room at the Oregon State Penitentiary, in Salem, Ore. Sixty percent of Americans support the death penalty for convicted murderers, the lowest level of support since November 1972, according to a new Gallup poll.

Sixty percent of Americans support the death penalty for convicted murderers, according to a new Gallup poll. Gallup editor Jeffrey M. Jones said the number is "the lowest level of support Gallup has measured since November 1972, when 57 percent were in favor. Death penalty support peaked at 80 percent in 1994, but it has gradually declined since then."

Support for the death penalty is widely different among the major political parties. Eighty-one percent of Republicans currently favor the practice, compared with only 47 percent of Democrats. Sixty percent of independents support the death penalty, matching the national average.

While support among all political groups has dropped over time, the largest drop was among Democrats. "Democrats' level of support is currently down 28 percentage points from its 1994 peak and has fluctuated around the 50 percent mark for the last several years," Gallup said.

The poll also found that 52 percent of Americans think that the death penalty is applied fairly, while 40 percent do not. Jones said that there has been an increase in the number of states that have abolished the death penalty. Currently, 18 states do not allow the death penalty — shown on this map from the ACLU — with six of those bans occurring since 2006.

Nicole Flatow at ThinkProgress recently reported on a study that found just 2 percent of U.S. counties have been responsible for a majority of executions since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a death penalty moratorium in 1976. "Eighty-five percent of U.S. counties have not executed a single person in more than 45 years," said Flatow.

And overall, the number of death sentences in the U.S. has been falling, according to Ethan Bronner at the New York Times, who reported that in 2012 "nine states executed inmates … the fewest in two decades, and the number of death sentences handed down (in 2012) — 80 — was about a third of the total in 2000."

"A lot of officials have come to the conclusion that if they are concerned about deterrence and protection of their citizens and the diminishing of crime, the death penalty is not a very good strategy," James S. Liebman a law professor at Columbia University, told Bronner. "The counties that use it are ones that tend to spend a lot less money on law enforcement, criminal justice and the courts. They are using it instead of modern law enforcement."

Email: dmerling@deseretnews.com