Predicting Punitive Attitudes: Racial-Animus towards New Immigrant and Aboriginal Minority Groups as a Mediating Agent upon Public Crime Concerns

Ruth P. Brookman, Karl K. K. Wiener


In English-speaking Western society's punitive attitudes towards the sentencing of criminal offenders is a well-established phenomenon. Two theoretical models; the Crime-distrust model and Racial-animus model are demonstrated predictors of punitive attitudes. However, little is known about how racial prejudice impacts the association between the public's crime concerns and their demand for harsher sentencing outcomes. The present study utilises online survey data obtained from a convenience sample of 566 Australian residents to examine the Racial-animus model as a mediating agent upon the Crime-distrust model and its relationship with punitive attitudes. A significant indirect effect of racial animus is demonstrated upon the perception of increasing crime rates and public confidence in the court system and punitive attitudes, regardless of whether animus is towards new-immigrants or Indigenous Australians. A significant indirect relationship between fear of crime and the demand for harsher sentencing is only demonstrated through negative perceptions of new immigrants. Results lend support for a mediation model whereby the indirect effect of fear of crime is significant when mediated by negative sentiment towards new-immigrants but not towards Indigenous Australians. Future research using a representative sample of the Australian population is indicated to increase the confidence with which findings are interpreted.

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