Readdressing the Racial Divide in Support for Capital Punishment

James D. Unnever, Radford University
Francis T. Cullen, University of Cincinnati

ABSTRACT
This project investigates the racial divide in support for capital punishment. We first examine whether race has a direct effect on support for capital punishment, and we test whether the influence of race varies across measures of class, being a native southerner, confidence in government officials, political orientation, and religious affiliation. Using data drawn from the General Social Survey (GSS), we find that there is a substantial racial divide, with African Americans much less likely to support the death penalty. Further, the analysis reveals that shared factors that might be expected to bring African Americans and whites together--class, confidence in government, conservative politics, regional location, and religious fundamentalism--either do not narrow black-white punishment attitudes or, at best, have only modest effects. These results suggest that the racial divide in support for capital punishment is likely to be enduring and, turn, to remain a point of symbolic contention in black-white conceptions of criminal injustice in the United States.

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Updated 05/20/2006