The Washington Post/ABC poll released Thursday was the first to find a majority preference for life in prison. Forty-two percent said killers should be put to death.
Even in states that continue to use the death penalty, 49 percent say they prefer sentences of life with no parole. In non-death penalty states that rises to 58 percent.
Sixty percent of respondents said they support the death penalty, and 37 percent oppose it. Between 2002 and 2006, roughly two-thirds supported the death penalty.
States have been scrambling to find execution drugs because most pharmaceutical companies ban their products from being used for lethal injection, and there have been recent problem executions. On April 29, Clayton Lockett -- sentenced to death for kidnapping a young woman and burying her alive -- died of a heart attack in Oklahoma 10 minutes after prison officials halted his execution.
The new poll found that 65 percent of non-white respondents said they prefer life sentences while 28 percent said killers should get the death penalty. In a 2006 poll, the split was 55 percent to 41 percent in favor of life.
Half of white respondents said they would prefer killers get death sentences, while 45 percent said life with no parole.
The poll found that Democrats and independents are significantly more likely to support life with no parole than they were in 2006. A majority of Republicans continue to support death sentences.
The death penalty remains on the books in 32 states. They range from Texas, which has put more than 500 people to death since 1982, to New Hampshire, which has not held an execution since 1939 and currently has only one person under a deeath sentence.