Revisiting White Backlash: Does Race Affect Death Penalty Opinion?

Published in Research & Politics, 2018

Recommended citation: Butler, Ryden, Brendan Nyhan, Jacob M. Montgomery, and Michelle Torres. 2018. “Revisiting White Backlash: Does Race Affect Death Penalty Opinion?” Research & Politics 5(1).

Peffley and Hurwitz’s article “Persuasion and resistance: Race and the death penalty in America” is an influential study demonstrating the effects of race on death penalty attitudes. White respondents were found to increase their approval for capital punishment when informed that it disproportionately affects African-Americans. We present results from two studies, including one conducted on a nationally representative sample, that fail to find support for this finding. Our first study, which was conducted on Amazon Mechanical Turk, consists of an exact replication as well as an additional manipulation that strengthens the treatment by adding information about a specific black (versus a white) defendant to the stimulus. However, we fail to elicit the backlash effect found in the original study using either manipulation despite having nearly three times the sample size. These findings are mirrored by replication data from a Time-sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences survey that closely replicates Peffley and Hurwitz’s race framing treatment. The results from these studies suggest that the relationship between racial stimuli and death penalty support has changed since the original study, that racial backlash effects in this policy domain are not as robust as previously assumed, or both.

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