Capital Punishment in Brazil: Exploring Factors That Predict Public Support for the Death Penalty

Published date01 February 2022
Date01 February 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2022, Vol. 38(1) 56 –71
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862211034345
Capital Punishment in
Brazil: Exploring Factors
That Predict Public Support
for the Death Penalty
Francis Danso Boateng1
and Michael K. Dzordzormenyoh2
The primary purpose of this study was to examine public support for the death penalty
in Brazil and to determine factors that influence such support. Currently, Brazil has the
death penalty for cases involving war crimes, genocides, terrorism, and crime against
humanity. The country’s constitution, however, prohibits the use of the death penalty
in ordinary crimes. Analyzing individual-level cross-sectional data collected by the
American Barometer Survey, we found that a significant majority of Brazilians support
the death penalty, with more than two thirds expressing greater support. In terms of
factors, it was revealed that frequency of murders, sense of insecurity, and perceived
institutional legitimacy largely influence support for the death penalty. In addition,
ethnicity, religiosity, and religious affiliation affect citizens’ attitudes toward the death
penalty. The findings of this study have serious implications for research and practice.
death penalty, capital punishment, legitimacy, Brazil, insecurity, crime
Historically, punishment has been the universal response to crime and deviance world-
wide. Despite the global acceptance of punishment, it would be a grave blunder to
view punishment as a uniform response to different types of crime and deviance. In
1The University of Mississippi, University, USA
2University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
Corresponding Author:
Francis Danso Boateng, Department of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies, The University of Mississippi,
University, MS 38677, USA.
1034345CCJXXX10.1177/10439862211034345Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeBoateng and Dzordzormenyoh
Boateng and Dzordzormenyoh 57
fact, how punishment is defined, their legal treatment, and execution reflect the pre-
vailing social, political, economic, and historical conditions of a society at any given
point in time (Kronenwetter, 2001; Miethe & Lu, 2005; Unnever, 2010). The literature
on death penalty is extensive, and has identified several important indicators of public
opinion on the death penalty. These factors include political, economic, and social
variables (Kent, 2010; Miethe et al., 2005; Singer et al., 2020; Unnever & Cullen,
2009), crime and victimization (Hessing et al., 2003; Stack, 2004; Unnever et al.,
2007), and demographic characteristics such as race, ethnicity, education, age, reli-
gion, religiosity, and political ideology (Cullen et al., 2000; DiIulio, 1994; Hood &
Hoyle, 2009, 2015; Loury, 2008; Miller & Hayward, 2008; Ruddell & Urbina, 2004;
Soss et al., 2003; Stack, 2004; Unnever, 2010; Unnever & Cullen, 2006, 2007; Unnever
et al., 2006; Weitzer & Tuch, 2004, 2005).
Although the empirical evidence from existing literature has improved our
understanding of the death penalty and the factors that predict public opinion, the
literature is not without gaps and disagreements. First, the existing literature largely
focuses on examining the death penalty in developed and wealthy countries com-
pared with developing countries like Brazil and other Latin and South American
nations. This neglect is impeding accumulation of scientific knowledge with respect
to punishment in these countries. Second, findings about what influences public
support for the death penalty is largely mixed, with limited consensus among aca-
demics. The dearth of research in developing countries and the divergence among
scholars create room for further examination of how citizens’ opinions on the death
penalty are shaped.
The overall purpose of this study is to understand the etiology of capital punish-
ment in Brazil. The objective of this study is twofold. First, the study aims to assess
the extent of public support for the death penalty in Brazil. Second, to examine factors
that influence public opinion about the death penalty. Based on these objectives, two
research questions guided this exploration
Research Question 1: Do most Brazilians favor the death penalty for cases involv-
ing murders?
Research Question 2: What variables predict or explain Brazilians’ attitudes
toward the death penalty?
To achieve the study’s twofold objective and address the research queries, we ana-
lyzed individual-level cross-sectional data collected by the American Barometer
Survey. Findings from this endeavor will be meaningful to our understanding of capi-
tal punishment in several ways. First, by focusing on Brazil, the results of the study
will bridge the research gap between developed and the less developed nations, and
shed light on factors influencing public opinion on capital punishment outside the
Western world. Society is idiosyncratic in nature, meaning that, results obtained in one
context may not be applicable in explaining behavior in another context. Thus, we
cannot explain Brazilians’ attitudes toward punishment without analyzing data
obtained on Brazilians. Second, findings from this study will have serious implications

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