Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Political Science
This paper assesses the conditional effect of direct democracy on death penalty policy in the American states. I argue that these institutions have played an integral role in maintaining capital punishment in the United States by enhancing responsiveness to public preferences, which are generally supportive of the death penalty. The findings provide some support for my expectations, showing that direct democracy amplifies the effect of public opinion on policy, even if it does not necessarily increase the probability that policy will be congruent with majority preferences. This paper also overcomes a methodological limitation of prior studies on this subject, which employ a cross-sectional research design. Because public opinion---especially on the death penalty---and policy evolve over time, such a design can produce misleading results due to its static nature. Using the longitudinal research design promoted by Lewis and Jacobsmeier (2017), in combination with yearly state-level death penalty opinion estimates computed by Gelman and Shirley (2015), I am able to account for the dynamic nature of opinion and policy.