Excerpted From: Zachary T. Malcom, Marin R. Wenger and Brendan Lantz, Politics or Prejudice? Separating the Influence of Political Affiliation and Prejudicial Attitudes in Determining Support for Hate Crime Law, 29 Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 182 (May, 2023) (10 Footnotes/References) (Full Document)


Malcom Wenger LantzSince the passage of the first hate crime laws in the 1980s, hate crime legislation has been a particularly divisive issue in America's public sphere. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity”. While 47 states (excluding Arkansas, South Carolina, and Wyoming), the federal government, and Washington, DC have enacted their own forms of hate crime legislation, research has notably found that nearly one-third of Americans do not support hate crime legislation, meaning there are potentially up to 110 million unsupportive Americans. One reason for the variation in support for hate crime legislation may be that hate crime laws are, as Perry stated, a “curious blend of progressive and conservative sentiment.” That is, hate crime laws are simultaneously punitive toward offenders, appealing to more conservative ideals, and protective of minority victims, appealing to more progressive ideals .

In general, politically conservative individuals are typically more punitive toward offenders than politically liberal individuals ; however, when it comes to hate crime penalty enhancements, politically conservative individuals are less likely than politically liberal individuals to support such penalty enhancements. Research has generally suggested three main reasons for these patterns. First, many conservatives believe that hate crime laws violate the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment by punishing the offender's thoughts. Second, many conservatives also believe that hate crime laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because they argue that such laws do not protect all individuals equally. Third and most importantly for the current research, prior research has found that politically conservative individuals are more likely to hold negative (i.e., prejudicial) attitudes toward minority groups. Importantly, a separate body of research has explored how prejudicial attitudes influence perceptions of hate crimes and hate crime law support; unsurprisingly, those with higher prejudicial attitudes toward those minority groups typically protected by hate crime legislation (e.g., Black people) are less likely to support such legislation. The problem, however, is that prior research has not disentangled whether politically conservative opposition to hate crime legislation is solely attributed to political affiliation or if opposing hate crime legislation “provides an outlet for the expression of such negative views of minority group members, social protections, or leveling the political and legal landscape”. In other words, opposition to hate crime laws may be attributable to (a) differences in political attitudes, (b) differences in prejudicial attitudes toward those minority groups that hate crime laws are intended to protect, or (c) some combination of both.

Taken together, the purpose of the current study is to disentangle the complex relationship between political affiliation, prejudicial attitudes, and differences in individual support for hate crime laws by examining three primary research questions. First, is political affiliation uniquely related to hate crime law support? Second, are prejudicial attitudes similarly related to hate crime law support? Finally, does prejudice partially account for the relationship between political affiliation and hate crime law support? By understanding resistance to hate crime law as a product of prejudice, political affiliation, or some combination of both, this research has the potential to inform important policy debates surrounding these issues moving forward.

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In the end, given that hate crimes are increasingly being recognized as a pressing social issue, especially following recent increases in such incidents, it is particularly important to understand why some Americans still do not support such legislation. Our results indicate that at least part of the political resistance to hate crime laws may be rooted in individual prejudicial attitudes, suggesting further evidence for the role that racism and xenophobia might play in impeding systemic change in American policy moving forward. By furthering our understanding of resistance to hate crime law as a byproduct of prejudice, political affiliation, or some combination of both, this research is a crucial step toward informing the ongoing debates surrounding hate crime legislation.

Zachary T. Malcom (iD) https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6443-7688

Marin R. Wenger (iD) https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8939-4733

Brendan Lantz (iD) https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9086-5662