A growing body of research recognizes that people’s policy opinions are not simply positive or negative, but instead derive from a variety of positive and negative beliefs related to a political issue. This research expands this insight by explaining the variability in support for punitive anti-crime policies among black Americans. Data from a nationally representative survey of black Americans (n = 515) are used to show that a majority of blacks are conflicted between a strong desire to reduce crime and perceptions of widespread racial discrimination within the criminal justice system. Using a heteroskedastic item response theory model, I demonstrate that conflict between these beliefs results in far greater variability around their support for punitive, but not preventative policies. Both the conflict and variability of many black Americans’ preferences on punitive anti-crime policies complicates their ability to clearly voice their support for or opposition toward punitive policies and likely limits the ability of elected officials to represent members of this community.
- Criminal justice
- Public opinion
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science