For the first time in a 34-year trend, a majority of Americans favor life imprisonment with no possibility of parole over the death penalty, Gallup says.
The 60 percent to 36 percent advantage for life imprisonment marks a shift from the past two decades, when Americans were mostly divided in their views of the better punishment for murder. During the 1980s and 1990s, consistent majorities believed the death penalty was the better option for murderers.
The Oct. 14-31 survey was conducted before a Texas court halted the scheduled execution of Rodney Reed in mid-November. A number of prominent politicians and celebrities joined legal activist groups in lobbying Texas officials to spare Reed amid new evidence that could exonerate him.
A majority still favor use of the death penalty, according to Gallup’s long-term death penalty trend question. That question, first asked in 1936, asks Americans if they are “in favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder,” without providing an alternative option.
Currently, 56 percent of U.S. adults say they are in favor of the death penalty for convicted murderers in response to this question. Support for the death penalty, as measured by the historical Gallup question, has been steady over the past three years.
However, it is down seven percentage points from 2014, the last time Gallup asked the life imprisonment versus death penalty question. The percentage in favor of using the death penalty has been lower than it is now, most notably during the mid-1960s through early 1970s.
A 1966 survey found 42 percent of Americans in favor and 47 percent opposed to the death penalty, the only time more have expressed opposition than support. The percentage of Americans who are in favor of the death penalty, has fallen to 45-year lows.