An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2004 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association and received the SPPQ Award from the State Politics and Policy Section of the American Political Science Association for the best paper on state politics presented at any conference in 2004. An earlier version of this article was also presented at colloquia at the University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania State University. The authors appreciate the constructive input received at both events. We thank Victoria Farrar-Myers, David Lowery, William Reed, and the five anonymous reviewers for their comments and assistance with this article. This research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation. However, we alone accept responsibility for this article, including any errors.
State Public Opinion, the Death Penalty, and the Practice of Electing Judges
Article first published online: 4 APR 2008
©2008, Midwest Political Science Association
American Journal of Political Science
Volume 52, Issue 2, pages 360–372, April 2008
How to Cite
Brace, P. and Boyea, B. D. (2008), State Public Opinion, the Death Penalty, and the Practice of Electing Judges. American Journal of Political Science, 52: 360–372. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2008.00317.x
- Issue published online: 4 APR 2008
- Article first published online: 4 APR 2008
Do state supreme courts act impartially or are they swayed by public opinion? Do judicial elections influence judge behavior? To date these questions have received little direct attention due to the absence of comparable public opinion data in states and obstacles to collecting data necessary for comprehensive analysis of state supreme court outcomes. Advances in measurement, data archiving, and methodology now allow for consideration of the link between public opinion and judicial outcomes in the American states. The analysis presented considers public opinion's influence on the composition of courts (indirect effects) and its influence on judge votes in capital punishment cases (direct effects). In elective state supreme courts, public support for capital punishment influences the ideological composition of those courts and judge willingness to uphold death sentences. Notably, public support for capital punishment has no measurable effect on nonelective state supreme courts. On the highly salient issue of the death penalty, mass opinion and the institution of electing judges systematically influence court composition and judge behavior.