Supporting the Iron Fist: Crime News, Public Opinion, and Authoritarian Crime Control in Guatemala



Authoritarian responses to rising violent crime rates have become a serious problem in Central America. Inspired by theories of agenda setting and media framing, this article examines the influence of news media coverage of crime on attitudes toward crime control. Using an original survey experiment, it tests the relationship between crime news, fear of crime, trust in government institutions, and support for authoritarian crime control measures in Guatemala. It finds that crime news influences support for authoritarian crime control via its effect on lowering citizen trust in government institutions. Exposure to crime news also affects self-reported victimization rates and levels of support for a presidential candidate promoting iron fist policies. These findings not only give insight into the relationship between crime news and political attitudes but also have implications for the rule of law and the politics of crime in new or fragile democracies.