The Effects of Fear of Crime on Mediating Support for the Death Penalty

Matthew Atherton, The Pennsylvania State University

Despite the amount of research that has been conducted about public opinion surrounding the death penalty, a great deal of that research does not truly provide a proper understanding of the subject. Simplistic questions which measure simple "in-favor" or "opposed" opinions about capital punishment are insufficient to gain a multifaced understanding of public attitudes on the death penalty. Using basic principles from the Marshall Hypothesis, which states that when presented with further information people's support for the death penalty will decrease, this project tested factors that cause people to increase opposition to capital punishment. This research examined public opinion questions about capital punishment from the 1995 The National Crime Opinion Survey. While controlling for factors which predict initial support for capital punishment, fear of crime was found to have a positive influence upon a person increasing their opposition to capital punishment. Those respondents that reported higher levels of fear of crime were more likely to gain opposition to capital punishment when presented with social justice concerns about death penalty outcomes. The results suggest that a link between the emotional responses in initial death penalty response and fear of crime will help social scientists better understand what drives public opinion about capital punishment.

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Updated 05/20/2006