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Patterns of Death Penalty Abolition, 1960–2005: Domestic and International Factors


  • Author’s notes: We are grateful for the excellent research assistance of Mark Kutzbach, Benjamin Bohr, Ramon Broers, and David Swanson. The paper also benefited from the constructive suggestions of Evan Schofer and the participants in the UC Irvine International Comparative Sociology Workshop and from those of the anonymous reviewers.


McGann, Anthony and Wayne Sandholtz. (2012) Patterns of Death Penalty Abolition, 1960–2005: Domestic and International Factors. International Studies Quarterly, doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2478.2011.00716.x
© 2012 International Studies Association

On the eve of World War II, eight countries had completely abolished the death penalty and another six had banned it for ordinary crimes. As of early 2008, 92 countries had prohibited capital punishment for all crimes and 10 more had ruled it out for ordinary crimes. The goal of this article is to account for the pattern of national abolition of the death penalty since 1960. We hypothesize that certain kinds of democracies are more liable to end capital punishment than others. Specifically, the negotiated form of democracy produced by parliamentary systems with proportional representation (“consensus democracy” in Lijphart’s terms) is more likely to do away with the death penalty than are other forms of democracy. As previous research indicates, democratic transitions also increase the likelihood of abolition. Finally, international influences can also tip countries toward abolition. We suggest that incentives provided by international organizations, particularly in Europe, have drawn some countries toward abolition. The empirical analysis of approximately 150 countries for the period 1960–2005 confirms our expectations.