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Mark Peffley: Research Page

Vita (*.pdf)

Selected Recent Publications and Papers

The Impact of Persistent Terrorism on Political Tolerance: Israel, 1980 to 2011, (with Marc Hutchison and Michal Shamir), forthcoming in American Political Science Review.

 How do persistent terrorist attacks influence political tolerance, a willingness to extend basic liberties to one’s enemies? Studies in the U.S. and elsewhere have produced a number of valuable insights into how citizens respond to singular, massive attacks like 9/11. But they are less useful for evaluating how chronic and persistent terrorist attacks erode support for democratic values over the long haul. Our study focuses on political tolerance levels in Israel across a turbulent thirty-year period, from 1980 to 2011, which allows us to distinguish the short-term impact of hundreds of terrorist attacks from the long-term influence of democratic longevity on political tolerance. We find that the corrosive influence of terrorism on political tolerance is much more powerful among Israelis who identify with the Right, who have also become much more sensitive to terrorism over time. We discuss the implications of our findings for other democracies under threat from terrorism.  

 The Vicarious Bases of Perceived Injustice (Mondak, Hurwitz, Peffley)

Justice in America: The Separate Realities of Blacks and Whites, (with Jon Hurwitz). Cambridge University Press, 2010.
As reactions to the O. J. Simpson verdict, the Rodney King beating, and the Amadou Diallo killing make clear, Whites and African Americans in the United States inhabit two different perceptual worlds, with the former seeing the justice system as largely fair and color-blind and the latter believing it to be replete with bias and discrimination. Drawing on data from a nationwide survey of both races, Mark Pefley and Jon Hurwitz tackle two important questions in this book: what explains the widely differing perceptions, and why do such differences matter? They attribute much of the racial chasm to the relatively common personal confrontations that many Blacks have with law enforcement – confrontations seldom experienced by Whites. And more importantly, the authors demonstrate that this racial chasm is consequential: it leads African Americans to react much more cynically to incidents of police brutality and racial profiling, and also to be far more skeptical of punitive anticrime policies ranging from the death penalty to the three-strikes laws.


"Persuasion and Resistance: Race and the Death Penalty in America,” (with Jon Hurwitz). American Journal of Political Science, 2007. 

Abstract:  Although there exists a large and well-documented “race gap” between whites and blacks in their support for the death penalty, we know relatively little about the nature of these differences and how the races respond to various arguments against the penalty. To explore such differences, we embedded an experiment in a national survey in which respondents are randomly assigned to one of several argument conditions. We find that African-Americans are more responsive to appeals that are both racial (i.e., the death penalty is unfair because most of the people who are executed are black) and nonracial (i.e., too many innocent people are being executed) than are whites, who are highly resistant to persuasion and, in the case of the racial argument, actually become more supportive of the death penalty upon learning that it discriminates against blacks. These inter-racial differences in responsiveness to arguments against the death penalty can be explained, in part, by the degree to which people attribute the causes of black criminality to either dispositional or systemic forces (i.e., the racial biases of the criminal justice system).


Explaining the Great Racial Divide: Perceptions of Fairness in the U.S. Criminal Justice System,” (with Jon Hurwitz). Journal of Politics, 2005.

Abstract: We examine the huge racial divide in citizens’ general beliefs about the fairness of the criminal justice system, focusing on the political consequences of these beliefs for shaping diverging interpretations of police behavior. Predictably, most blacks believe the system to be unfair and most whites believe the opposite. More importantly, these beliefs influence the interpretation of events quite differently. African Americans who view the system as unfair are much more suspicious of the police in confrontations with black civilians. Fairness for whites, however, has fewer racial connotations; they naively interpret the confrontations disregarding civilian race. Still, whites holding antiblack stereotypes are much more sympathetic to the police in their confrontations with black civilians.

Playing the Race Card in the Post Willie Horton Era: The Impact of Racialized Code Words on Support for Punitive Crime Policy,” (with Jon Hurwitz). Public Opinion Quarterly, 2005.

Abstract:  To date, little is known about the precise impact of racially coded words and phrases. Instead, most of what we know about racialized messages comes from studies focusing on pictorial racial cues (e.g., the infamous “Willie Horton” ad) or messages with an extensive textual narrative laced with implicit racial cues. Because in a “post-Horton” era strategic use of racially coded words will often be far more subtle than those explored in past studies, we investigate the power of a single phrase believed by many to carry strong racial connotations: “inner-city.” We do so by embedding an experiment in a national survey of whites, where a random half of respondents was asked whether they support spending money for prisons (versus anti-poverty programs) to lock up “violent criminals,” while the other half was asked about “violent inner city criminals.”  Consistent with the literature on issue framing, we find that whites’ racial attitudes (e.g., racial stereotypes) were much more important in shaping preferences for punitive policies when they receive the racially-coded, inner city question. Our results demonstrate how easy it is to continue “playing the race card” in the post-Willie Horton era, as well as some of the limits of such framing effects among whites with more positive racial attitudes.


Democratization and Political Tolerance in Seventeen Countries: A Multi-level Model of Democratic Learning,” (with Robert Rohrschneider). Political Research Quarterly, 56(3), September, 2003, 243-257.

Abstract:  Research on mass support for democracies shows that popular support for democratic norms is at a historic high. At the same time, research on political tolerance draws considerably bleaker conclusions about the democratic capacity of mass publics. We attempt to synthesize the essential lessons of these two literatures into a general model of democratic learning which argues that exposure to the rough-and-tumble of democratic politics should enhance political tolerance. We provide a test of the model using multilevel data from a diverse set of 17 countries. At the macro-level, we find, consistent with our theory, that: (1) political tolerance is greater in stable democracies that have endured over time (the longer the better), independent of a nation’s socioeconomic development; and (2) that federal systems increase levels of tolerance, as well. At the micro-level, we find that democratic activism, or using civil liberties, enhances political tolerance, independent of a host of other individual-level predictors. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our findings for studies of democratization and political tolerance.

Contact Info

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