Crime and Punishment - Abstract

Democracies tend to better perform in human rights protection. One reason for this is the higher cost of state repression in democracies where citizens can check a repressive government through political participation. In some democracies, however, we observe that citizens are highly supportive of state repression, voluntarily reducing the costs of repression the government would face. Why does the public support the government’s use of repression? I argue that concerns about crime facilitate popular support for state repression through two mechanisms: threat and abhorrence. First, the “threat mechanism” demonstrates that individuals would prefer state repression to protect them from crime victimization when they believe crimes are more immediate threats to their personal security than state repression. Second, through the “abhorrence mechanism,” individuals are more likely to tolerate state repression against “criminals” that are believed to deserve repressive punishment. The problem of this situation is that the government can use these mechanisms to conveniently justify repression against the general population, including the political opposition. However, the effects of crime concerns are mediated by individuals’ attachment to democracy and by the level of trust in the criminal justice system. I suggest empirical evidence for this argument with survey data and case studies.