Gallup said 61 percent of Americans approve of using the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, down from 64 percent last year.
Americans' views on the death penalty have varied significantly since 1936, the first time Gallup asked about the death penalty in murder cases. While 59 percent of Americans supported the death penalty in 1936, the number fell to less than a majority from 1957 to 1971, Gallup said Thursday.
Support for the death penalty was highest from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, peaking at 80 percent in 1994. Since that time, the number has gradually declined.
The latest poll was conducted Oct. 6-9, shortly after the highly publicized execution of Troy Davis in Georgia. Gallup said that may explain the slight drop in support from last year.
Forty percent of Americans say the death penalty is not imposed often enough while 25 percent say it is used too much. Fifty-two percent of people said the death penalty is applied fairly in the United States, down from 58 percent last year.
Support for the death penalty is most often expressed by white, male Republicans more than 30 years of age who live in southern and Midwestern states, Gallup said.
The Gallup poll results are based on telephone interviews with 1,005 adults. The margin of sampling error is 4 percentage points.