Why do white Americans support the death penalty?

Joe Soss, Laura Langbein, Alan R. Metelko

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    207 Scopus citations


    This article explores the roots of white support for capital punishment in the United States. Our analysis addresses individual-level and contextual factors, paying particular attention to how racial attitudes and racial composition influence white support for capital punishment. Our findings suggest that white support hinges on a range of attitudes wider than prior research has indicated, including social and governmental trust and individualist and authoritarian values. Extending individual-level analyses, we also find that white responses to capital punishment are sensitive to local context. Perhaps most important, our results clarify the impact of race in two ways. First, racial prejudice emerges here as a comparatively strong predictor of white support for the death penalty. Second, black residential proximity functions to polarize white opinion along lines of racial attitude. As the black percentage of county residents rises, so too does the impact of racial prejudice on white support for capital punishment.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)397-421
    Number of pages25
    JournalJournal of Politics
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - May 2003


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