Pluralistic Ignorance and Punitiveness Towards Illicit Drug Users: Reactions to the Drug Fiends of Yesteryear and the Politicians of Today
Matthew B. Kugler
Lehigh University; University of Chicago - Law School
John M. Darley
June 25, 2010
Three studies found that Americans have less punitive attitudes towards drug users than expected. In Study 1, participants (N = 204) assign trivial punishments to cocaine users who have no prior criminal record and aggravate sentences only slightly when faced with users who have histories of moderate to severe crimes, in contrast to current legal guidelines. In Study 2, participants (N = 166) assign the same penalties to a violent offender regardless of whether that offender is described as being a drug addict, only aggravating the sentence of the drug user if that scenario was presented after one describing a non-user. Participants in Study 2 also report believing that the average American is much more supportive of harsh drug laws than they are themselves, and this difference did not vary with political orientation. This suggests that pluralistic ignorance may play a substantial role in the drug policy attitudes of the American public. We directly tested this hypothesis in Study 3 (N = 201). In a survey study, liberal and moderate participants report supporting a law-and-order-focused candidate less, and a rehabilitation-focused candidate more, than they expect the average person in their state would. At all points in the political spectrum, participants estimate that the average person in their state has drug policy preferences that are actually typical only of Republicans.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 47
Keywords: Political Psychology, Drug Policy, Pluralistic Ignorance, Public Opinion, Criminal Justiceworking papers series
Date posted: June 26, 2010
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