White Americans Love the Death Penalty?

deathpenalty.jpgAs a Canadian, I never understood how Americans continue to execute its own citizens. The U.S. and Japan are the last western nations that execute their people on a routine basis (proof), even South Africa–which had an infamous record during the apartheid era–banned the practice in 1995.

The latest survey by the American Pew Research Center for The People & The Press (available in PDF here) points to America’s big racial divide on the topic. Their “Trends in Political Values & Core Attitudes: 1987-2007” writes:

Support for the death penalty for persons convicted of murder is somewhat lower now than it was in the late 1990s, but opinions have changed little since 2001. Currently, 64% favor he death penalty, while 29% oppose it. Support is higher among men (68%) than women (60%), and is substantially higher among whites (69%) than among African Americans (44%) and Hispanics (45%). More Republicans than Democrats favor the death penalty, but even among the latter, a small majority does so (56%, vs. 78% for Republicans).

Can anyone explain that? Three professors at the American University published a paper in 2003 (“Why Do White Americans Support the Death Penalty?“) that cites two factors:

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.

Hmm…so paranoid racial fears fuel America’s support of an arcane practice. How sad.


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