Here are some interesting polling data from AP-Ipsos on the death penalty. The AP story by Alan Fram is here. The first question is "Do you favor or oppose the death penalty for people convicted of murder? Is that strongly favor/oppose or somewhat favor/oppose?"
Like most polls on the death penalty, this could be interpreted by some respondents as asking for a single punishment for all murderers, thus understating support for the death penalty for the worst murderers, which is the real issue. To the question as phrased, 42% of Americans said strongly favor, 27% somewhat favor, 17% somewhat oppose, and 13% strongly opposed. Combining the degrees, the result is 69% to 29%* overall, still overwhelming support. In Mexico, where the governing elites are constantly giving us static, the people are 71-26 in favor. South Korea comes in at 72-28. The U.K. and Canada are nearly evenly divided at 50-45 and 44-52, respectively. France is 45-52. Only in the former fascist countries does the opposition win big: Germany 35-62, Italy 31-64, and Spain 28-69.
Half the sample was asked an alternate form of the question, "Which punishment do you prefer for people convicted of murder?" with choices of death, LWOP, and long prison. This question even more clearly calls for a single punishment for all murderers. If that were really the choice, I might say LWOP myself. As it invariably does, this very slanted question produces reduced support for the death penalty, but still 52% in the U.S.
The headlines in the news coverage are all about the Osama bin Laden question. Back in 2000, Gallup was surprised that many people who answered "no" to its generic question said "yes" to Timothy McVeigh. It was only then that they realized that a "no" to their generic question does not necessarily indicate a total opposition to capital punishment, but they keep asking the same question anyway. In the present poll, the bin Laden question is probably less meaningful, because feelings about him may be intertwined with feelings about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The fact that 36% of Americans would favor a life sentence with or without parole when only 30% are opposed to the death penalty generally indicates something else is going on here.
The surveys were conducted in February except for Canada, which was April 3-5.
* The separate numbers in the table for the "strong" and "somewhat" do not add to the total in all cases due to rounding.