Public perceptions of race and crime: The role of racial stereotypes

Jon Hurwitz, Mark Peffley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

331 Scopus citations


Theory: Social psychological theories of social stereotyping are used to generate a series of predictions about the conditions under which whites' stereotypes of African-Americans are likely to bias their evaluations of blacks in the context of crime. Hypotheses: Stereotypes of African-Americans should influence attitudes on crime policy primarily when criminals are black, crimes are violent, policies are punitive, and no individuating information seriously undercuts the stereotype. Methods: Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) procedures are used to administer a series of survey experiments where the race and other characteristics of the target (e.g., criminal suspects, furlough programs, etc.) are manipulated in interviews with Lexington, Kentucky residents in a 1994 probability survey. Results: Consistent with our expectations, we find a strong relationship between whites' images of African-Americans and judgments of crime and punishment, but only for black criminals who commit violent crimes, and only for punitive (vs. preventive) policies. Because these are the circumstances which typically surround the crime issue, we conclude that much of public opinion in this domain is influenced by racial concerns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-401
Number of pages27
JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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