View of The Death Penalty Depending on Race and Your Familial Relation to The Prison Industrial Complex

Qualitative Data Report

Introduction

There are a mere 57 countries that still retain the death penalty. Out of those, only four are considered “industrialized.” The United States is one of them. Even more, just 2% of counties in the U.S. have accounted for over 50% of the executions since 1976. Although these counties can vary temporally, the top two are Harris County and Dallas County, both found in Texas. Because of such disparities, both locally and globally, it seems as if a sociological conversation is past due. The above statistics focus more on regional differences, however, it is no secret that racial categorization often align with region and therefore can play a exponential part in aforementioned phenomena. In my study I will be exploring how two independent variables, race and the number of family members an individual has in prison, affect opinions, favor or oppose, of the death penalty. I have a layered hypothesis. First, I predict that respondents who identify as “Black” or “Other” will be less likely to support the death penalty. I am making this assumption due to the propensity for people of color to be unequally sought after by the innately racialized criminal justice in the United States. Second, I anticipate that there will be a negative causal relationship between the number of family members a respondent has in prison and their proneness to support the death penalty. This expectation comes from a suspected place of empathy. Meaning, in my conception, people who have family members in prison will be more likely to relate to the loved ones of those on death row and understand the deep loss they often still feel.

Methods

For my dataset I used the “General Social Survey.” GSS has a “Data Explorer,” that allows researchers to conduct countless permutable studies on race, religion, governmental spending, and several more concepts. To display my findings, I used both frequency distributions and clustered bar graphs, which will be found in “Findings.” All data comes from the year 2006. The specific question for the support/oppose variables was, “Do you favor or oppose the death penalty for persons convicted of murder?” In conjunction, for the familial variable the GSS said, “Next, we are going to ask questions about people in your family, including relatives and in-laws. E. How many are currently in state or federal prison?”

Findings

To begin, Table 1 and Graph 1 demonstrate the results to my first inquiry, “Does the Race of the Respondent Affect their Opinion of the Death Penalty?” The answer is yes, very much so, as you can see for yourself below.

Table 1: View of the Death Penalty by Race

  Race
White Black Other Total
View of the Death Penalty Favor 75.2% 44.9% 58.3% 69.1%
Oppose 24.8% 55.1% 41.7% 30.9%
Total 100% 100% 100% 100%

Graph 1: View of the Death Penalty by Race

graph 1In line with my first hypothesis, respondents who identify as “Black” or “Other” are less likely to support the death penalty. In fact, white respondents were 30% more likely to support the death penalty than black respondents, and just under 20% more likely than respondents who marked “Other.” Again, I attest this stark asymmetry to the mass incarceration of people of color, and further, the overlaying racism embedded within our governmental structures.

While my first hypothesis was supported by the findings, by second hypothesis is a slightly different story. Table 2 and Graph 2 elucidate respondents’ support of the death penalty in relation to both race and the number of family members they have in prison.

Table 2: Support of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with Family Members in Prison

  Race
White Black Other
 

 

 

 

 

View of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with Family Members in Prison

0 Family Members in Prison 80.4% 56.1% 55.3%
1 Family Member in Prison 80.3% 46.9% 49.5%
2-5 Family Members in Prison 79.7% 53.4% 46.4%
6-10 Family Members in Prison NA 0% 0%
10+ Family Members in Prison NA 100% NA

Graph 2: Support of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with Family Members in Prison

graph 2As Table 2 and Graph 2 show, my hypothesis, that people who had family members in prison would be less likely to support the death penalty, was only true for the “Other” category. In both black and white respondents, those who had family members were more likely to support the death penalty, even if the percentage was slight. There was a larger deviation in black respondents’ answers, which I found particularly surprising, due to the causal validity of my first conclusion- people of color, overall, are more likely to oppose the death penalty. Upon retrospective analyzation, it may be so that respondents’ with family members in prison support the death penalty in order to keep their blood away from those criminals, who could be viewed as inherently more “dangerous,” whatever that means. This, however, is just conjecture. Another sociologically bound study would have to be conducted in order to delineate accurate explanations for these findings. Such a study would benefit from personal interviews with respondents’ who have family members in prison. Another possible account could, perhaps justly, assume that the white respondents’ answers vary so little because of their comparatively low involvement in the criminal justice system as a whole.

Below are tables and graphs that go deeper into respondents’ views on the death penalty in relation to race and number of family members in prison.

Table 3: View of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with 0 Family Members in Prison

  Race
White Black Other Total
View of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with 0 Family Members in Prison Favor 80.4% 56.1% 55.3% 76.1%
Oppose 19.6% 43.9% 44.8% 23.9%
Total 100% 100% 100% 100%

Graph 3: View of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with 0 Family Members in Prison

graph 3Table 4: View of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with 1 Family Member in Prison

  Race
White Black Other Total
View of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with 1 Family Members in Prison Favor 80.3% 46.9% 49.6% 68.7%
Oppose 19.7% 53.1% 50.4% 31.3%
Total 100% 100% 100% 100%

Graph 4: View of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with 1 Family Member in Prison

graph 4Table 5: View of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with 2-5 Family Members in Prison

  Race
White Black Other Total
View of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with 2-5 Family Members in Prison Favor 79.7% 53.6% 46.4% 57.7%
Oppose 20.3% 46.4% 53.6% 42.3%
Total 100% 100% 100% 100%

Graph 5: View of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with 2-5 Family Members in Prison

graph 5Table 6: View of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with 6-10 Family Members in Prison

  Race
White Black Other Total
View of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with 6-10 Family Members in Prison Favor 0% 0% 0% 0%
Oppose 0% 100% 100% 100%
Total 0% 100% 100% 100%

Graph 6: View of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with 6-10 Family Members in Prison

graph 6Table 7: View of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with 10+ Family Members in Prison

  Race
White Black Other Total
View of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with 10+ Family Members in Prison Favor 0% 100% 0% 100%
Oppose 0% 0% 0% 0%
Total 0% 100% 0% 100%

Graph 7: View of the Death Penalty by Race in Respondents with 10+ Family Members in Prison

graph 7These above illustrations simply provide a slightly deeper look into the ways in which opinions of the death penalty manifest on different racial and familial lines.

Conclusions

Once more, In my study I explored how two independent variables, race and the number of family members an individual has in prison, affected opinions, favoring or opposing, of the death penalty. I concocted a layered hypothesis, with the first being the prediction that respondents who identify as “Black” or “Other” will be less likely to support the death penalty, and the anticipation that there will be a negative causal relationship between the number of family members a respondent has in prison and their proneness to support the death penalty being the second. The logical supposition of the former coming from the postulation that people of color who are systemically oppressed by the criminal justice system will be less likely to want more power in the hands of law enforcement and the government. Although not exactly the case, the latter was posited from a, to be frank, hope for empathetic reasoning from individuals with loved ones in the prison industrial system. As described above, my first hypothesis was synonymous with the findings, whereas my second had mixed results. My study, as all, had both its strengths- legitimacy of the source, commitment to data visualization, and the direct corollary nature of the variable- and its weaknesses- the lack of personal interviews, an unclear definition of “Other,” and temporally limited data, being that it was only conducted in the year 2006. In future research, I would further enhance these strengths, and attempt to my greatest ability to eliminate the weaknesses fully. My methodology, i truly believe, could always be improved. That being noted, in hindsight I found no aggressive lapses in this sector of the research experience.

As with all sociologically minded endeavors, I was able to draw, evolve, and reinstate, conclusions about social relations. Most potently, people, unfortunately, do not always conform to what, in my perspective, would be their most beneficial path. In this particular study, people of color, in an inclusive sense, were not as antagonistic to the idea of the death penalty as I would imagine when considering injustices around the nation. Even more encompassing, and on a deeply personal note, I do not, and honestly do not wish to, understand how an individual’s sense of revenge could overpower their sense of affinity for the value of a human life.