"Public Opinion and Capital Punishment: A Close Examination of the Views of Abolitionists and Retentionists"

Michigan Law Authors
Areas of Interest
Publish Date
Crime and Delinquency
Publication Type
Journal Article

A survey designed to examine the attitudinal and informational bases of people's opinions about the death penalty was administered to 500 Northern California residents (response rate = 96 percent). Of these, 58.8 percent were proponents of capital punishment, 30.8 percent were opponents, and 10.4 percent were undecided. When asked whether they favored mandatory, discretionary, or no death penalty for various crimes, respondents tended to treat these options as points on a scale of strength of belief, with mandatory penalties favored for the most serious crimes, rather than considering the questions of objectivity and fairness that have influenced the United States Supreme Court's considerations of these options. For no crime did a majority favor execution of all those convicted, even when a mandatory penalty was endorsed. Respondents were generally ignorant on factual issues related to the death penalty, and indicated that if their factual beliefs (in deterrence) were incorrect, their attitude would not be influenced. When asked about their reasons for favoring or opposing the death penalty, respondents tended to endorse all reasons consistent with their attitudes, indicating that the attitude does not stem from a set of reasoned beliefs, but may be an undifferenti ated, emotional reflection of one's ideological self-image. Opponents favored due process guarantees more than did Proponents. A majority of respondents said they would need more evidence to convict if a case was capital. Theoretical and legal implications of the results are discussed.

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