Distrust of government, the vigilante tradition, and support for capital punishment

Steven F. Messner, Eric P. Baumer, Richard Rosenfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations

Abstract

This study probes the interconnections among distrust of government, the historical context, and public support for the death penalty in the United States with survey data for area-identified samples of white and black respondents. Multilevel statistical analyses indicate contrary effects of government distrust on support for the death penalty for blacks and whites, fostering death penalty support among whites and diminishing it among blacks. In addition, we find that the presence of a "vigilante tradition," as indicated by a history of lynching, promotes death penalty support among whites but not blacks. Finally, contrary to Zimring's argument in The Contradictions of Capital Punishment, we find no evidence that vigilantism moderates the influence of government distrust on support for the death penalty, for either whites or blacks. Our analyses highlight the continuing influence of historical context as well as contemporary conditions in the formation of public attitudes toward criminal punishment, and they underscore the importance of attending to racial differences in the analysis of punitive attitudes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)559-590
Number of pages32
JournalLaw and Society Review
Volume40
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law

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