Gallup has continuously polled on the death penalty since 1936. For the first time, since the resumption of state killing, more Americans favor LWOP over the death penalty.
Although in principle roughly two-thirds of Americans are supportive of the death penalty, they divide evenly in their preference of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole versus the death penalty as the better punishment in murder cases. Given these explicit alternatives, 47% prefer the death penalty and 48% life imprisonment. Americans have typically shown a slight preference for the death penalty on this measure -- usually just above 50%.
Interestingly, and relatedly, those believing that the death penalty is a deterrent is just 34% while 64% believe it does not -- almost the direct opposite of the results reached on the same question in the 1980s. Americans' attitudes on this have changed dramatically over time -- in the 1980s and early 1990s, most Americans believed the death penalty did act as a deterrent to murder.Perhaps most interesting, however, was this polling results:
For example, a majority of Americans, 63%, agree with critics of the death penalty that innocent people have been executed under the death penalty in recent years. Only 27% believe this has not happened in the past five years. In two previous measurements, at least 59% of Americans said they think that people have been executed for crimes they did not commit.
It is unlikely that given the percentage of Americans that believe that innocent people have been mistakenly executed and that the death penalty is not a deterrent that support for the death penalty, even in the abstract, will continued its slide from its favorable polling number a few years back.