Group Threat, Community Cohesion, and Punitive Attitudes

Ryan D. King, University of Minnesota
Darren Wheelock, University of Minnesota

This paper explores the interplay of macro- and micro-level factors on punitive attitudes, and how race conditions this relationship. Theoretically, this analysis draws from two prominent traditions in the ares of prejudice and punitive attitudes. On the one hand, group threat theory (Blalock 1967; Blumer 1958) suggests prejudice is associated with community demographic characteristics, such as the size of "subordinate groups" relative to the "dominant group," and perceptions of competition in employment and politics. Yet, research applying this perspective to punitive attitudes and perceptions of the courts is scant. We juxtapose this approach with a Durkheimian explanation of punitive attitudes, which suggests feelings of social cohesion and community identity should mediate the effect of demographic change in the community and perceptions of competition and threat. To test these theoretical ideas we proceed by (1) drawing specific hypotheses from these theoretical perspectives, (2) testing the relative influence of macro- and micro-level factors on punitive attitudes, and (3) examining how race conditions this relationship. Our analysis and results are based on a new and innovative survey on prejudice and punitive attitudes (The American Mosaic Survey).

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Updated 05/20/2006