Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis


Political Science

First Advisor

Douglas E. Edlin




I began my research by assuming that public opinion and state Democratic leaders’ positions would have a consistent relationship state-to-state. However, as we will see, there are additional factors within the scope of death penalty politics that necessitate an additional level of analysis when considering politicians and their actions. Overall, there has been significant consideration of the link between public opinion and policymaking. However, some of the mechanisms between public opinion and policy have been overlooked, namely, the actions and statements of politicians. A comparison of state-by-state results of public opinion and Democratic legislative leaders’ statements and actions shows us that support of capital punishment does not necessarily direct Democratic legislative leaders to support capital punishment, nor does public opposition drive Democratic legislative leaders to oppose it. Public opinion does not necessarily indicate whether a state Democratic leader will take a certain position; rather, an analysis of public opinion—public opinion that considers shifts when given the alternative of life without parole—together with a state’s individual history and frequency of executions and state Democratic leaders’ words and actions must be considered to explain variance amongst states.