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We use the literature on race in death penalty to illustrate the hold that ideology has on researchers and journalists alike when a social issue is charged with emotional content. We note particularly how statistical evidence become misinterpreted in ways that support a particular ideology, either because of innumeracy or because—subconsciously or otherwise—one’s ideology precludes a critical analysis. We note that because white defendants are now proportionately more likely to receive the death penalty and to be executed than black defendants that the argument has shifted from a defendant-based to a victim-based one. We examine studies based on identical data coming to opposite conclusions, and the most recent studies using advanced techniques such as propensity score matching that fail to find any race-of-victim bias. It is concluded that those of us who oppose the death penalty would better do so by basing arguments on moral, financial, and innocence claims rather than claims of racism because such claims are harmful to race relations.

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This document was originally published in Journal of Ideology by Scholar Commons - Institutional Repository of the University of South Carolina. Copyright restrictions may apply.