Researchers based at the University of North Carolina found a strong statistical relationship between the level of racial resentment in a state and the number of death sentences handed down on Black people. In particular, racial resentment was a stronger predictor of Black death sentencing rates than conservative ideology, even when controlling for several factors such as homicide and violent crime rates. Writing in the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics, the authors noted: “[W]e find that racial hostility translates directly into more death sentences, particularly for Black offenders.”

The research connects the practice of lynching, which is a precursor to current racial resentment, to the prevalence of death sentences in multiple ways: “Our results suggest that the historical legacies of lynchings carry indirect effects for death sentencing through [two] pathways. On the one hand, lynchings indirectly increase death sentences as a function of contemporary racial resentment, consistent with a racial antipathy interpretation. On the other hand, there is also an indirect effect of historical lynchings through contemporary conservative ideologies reflective of antigovernment intervention, consistent with the vigilantism hypothesis.”

Looking back at the historical effort to fix prior problems with the death penalty in the U.S., the authors concluded that, “The modern death penalty is supposed to be reserved for the most heinous crimes and those who are the most deserving…And yet,” they stated, “the new and improved death penalty we analyze here appears to have the same flaws that Justice Stewart and others identified back in 1972.”


Frank R. Baumgartner, Christian Caron, and Scott Duxbury, Racial Resentment and the Death Penalty, The Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics, Nov. 2022