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Is a Conservative Just a Liberal Who Has Been Mugged?: Exploring the Origins of Punitive Views

NCJ Number
Punishment & Society Volume: 11 Issue: 2 Dated: April 2009 Pages: 147-169
Anna King; Shadd Maruna
Date Published
April 2009
23 pages
This paper explores both crime-related and non-crime-related factors that might be related to punitive public attitudes in order to examine the instrumental assumption that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged.
The adage that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged was not supported in this research, as differences in the experience of criminal victimization did not have an effect on punitive attitudes in the study. Evidence was also found that among the components of the ‘ontological (existence) insecurity’ behind punitive attitudes included anxiety about the state of the national economy and feelings that one’s fellow citizens cannot be trusted, in general. Punitive views among the public are sometimes taken for granted ‘as a fact of nature’ not requiring any particular explanation. However, comparative and historical research contradicts this image of punitive attitudes as a human constant. Modeled on previous research, this study was an attempt to develop a further empirical basis for understanding the expressive or controversial origins of punitive attitudes with a sample from a different cultural context, the south of England. A survey of a sample of 940 British citizens explored 2 hypotheses: (1) people become ‘fed up’ with criminality and seek to strike back at lawbreakers and (2) social theories of punitiveness typically portray punitiveness as a form of scape-goating in which offenders are just a stand-in population, masking more abstract anxieties. Tables, notes, and references