Date of this Version
Published in Punishment & Society (2018), 23p.
Set against the backdrop of Nebraska’s 2015 legislative repeal of the death penalty and the 2016 electoral reinstatement, we examined public support for capital punishment. Using two years of statewide survey data, we compared respondents who preferred the death penalty for murder, those who preferred other penalties, and those who were unsure, a respondent group often excluded from research. To understand what distinguishes among these groups, we examined media consumption, instrumental and expressive feelings about crime, and confidence and trust in the government regarding criminal justice. Results revealed that those who preferred the death penalty expressed more anger about crime and greater distrust, but perceived the death penalty as applied more fairly, relative to the other groups. The unsures, compared to those who preferred other penalties, were less trusting and viewed the death penalty as applied more fairly. The persistence of public support for capital punishment may best be understood for its symbolic, expressive qualities.