Study Examines Death Penalty Support in Mexico

Mexican flag

Research

A study by Ph.D. Student Alexander H. Updegrove and Assistant Professor Erin Orrick examined public support for the death penalty in Mexico.

In sharp contrast to previous studies of public support for the death penalty conducted in the U.S., Catholics in Mexico were found to be more likely to support capital punishment, whereas older Mexicans and those living in states that bordered the U.S. were less likely to support the death penalty, according to researchers at Sam Houston State University.

The study, “State- and Individual-level Predictors of Mexican Death Penalty Support,” by Ph.D. Student Alexander H. Updegrove and Erin A. Orrick, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Sam Houston State University, was recently published by Crime & Delinquency. It sheds new light on Mexican citizens’ attitudes toward the death penalty, which could affect support for the death penalty in Texas as the Latino population continues to grow through immigration.

“Understanding Mexican death penalty support is important because Mexico exerts a unique influence on Texas,” Updegrove and Orrick said. “The simple act of crossing borders does little to erase the influence of one’s native country, and it may be that an increased Mexican presence in Texas will further undermine already weakened support for capital punishment.”

There are currently 9.5 million Latinos living Texas, with nearly nine out of 10 possessing Mexican heritage, and the ethnic group is projected to be the largest single racial or ethnic population in the state by 2020. By 2042, Latinos are expected to represent the majority of the state’s residents. Mexico has a strong history of opposing capital punishment on human rights grounds, but neighboring Texas is known as the “Death Penalty Capital of the World” because of the historical frequency of its executions.

The study was based on 1,328 responses from the Mexican Panel Study, a major research project conducted before and after the country’s 2012 general presidential election. Based on the sample, 67 percent of Mexicans support the death penalty compared to 61 percent of Americans who support capital punishment nationally. These numbers are artificially inflated, though, because the survey did not ask whether participants favored the death penalty over life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (LWOP). Studies in the U.S. that have examined death penalty support compared to LWOP generally find a level of death penalty support below 50%.

The study found that, contrary to research conducted in the U.S., younger Mexican Catholics are more likely to support the death penalty than older, non-Catholic Mexicans. A geographical variation in death penalty support was also found, with Mexicans from states that bordered the U.S. less likely to support the death penalty (despite living in states with a higher average homicide rate and general unrest) than Mexicans living in states that did not border the U.S. In previous U.S. studies, those in areas with higher homicide rates were more likely to support capital punishment.

In addition, the study found Catholics in Mexico are more likely to support the death penalty. Previous research has shown that Catholics in the U.S. are less likely to support capital punishment. With a full 85 percent of Mexicans identifying as Catholics, this may translate into greater initial support for the death penalty upon immigration to the U.S., although that support is likely to decrease as immigrants become more assimilated. Finally, the study found younger Mexicans are more likely to support capital punishment.

“Culture appears to affect both the significance and direction of relationships between death penalty support and common U.S. predictors,” Updegrove and Orrick said. “In light of the present findings, researchers should not take for granted the generalizability of these predictors, but rather focus on identifying culture-specific predictors…this study [also] provides additional evidence that public attitudes toward capital punishment are more complex than initially thought.” “State- and Individual-level Predictors of Mexican Death Penalty Support,” is available at Crime & Delinquency.

Member of The Texas State University System