Explaining variation in public punitiveness : a cross-national and multi-level approach
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This dissertation explores public attitudes towards criminal punishment in Western societies and seeks to explain why some individuals are more punitive than others. A model of punitiveness with several domains of focus for explaining variation in punitiveness including objective risk of crime, conservative climate, and population diversity at the country level and demographics, conservative worldview and perceptions of crime, law and order at the individual level is tested with data on punitiveness from two multinational surveys using hierarchical logistic regression techniques. Analyses reveal that males, married individuals, and those who are concerned about crime are more punitive. The rest of the findings are specific to the way punitiveness is measured. Individuals younger than age 45, individuals who perceive the police as ineffective and individuals who have been victims of violent crime tend to prefer incarceration for a recidivist burglar. Those who believe in a personal God are more supportive of the death penalty while individuals with higher levels of religiosity are less in favor of the death penalty. Further, individuals who live in societies with more religious heterogeneity and where public belief in a literal hell is more prominent are most likely prefer a prison sentence for a recidivist burglar and individuals who live in countries with higher levels of lethal violence are more in favor of the death penalty. Religious heterogeneity and public belief in hell account for 42% of the variation across Western societies in preference for prison for a repeat burglar while homicide rate accounts for over 75% of the variation in support for capital punishment across Western societies. Conservative religious belief at the contextual level appears to be positively related to support for capital punishment indirectly through the homicide rate suggesting that support for the death penalty may be influenced by the normality of lethal violence in society dependent in part on contextual levels of conservative religious belief. This dissertation enhances the understanding of punitiveness by providing the most comprehensive multi-level study of public punitiveness to date and proves that religious factors, both personal and contextual, are central to understanding variation in attitudes toward punishment.