Photo credits: Loren Santow
Flash movie credit: Trey Thomas

The Decline of the Death Penalty and the Discovery of Innocence

Frank R. Baumgartner, Suzanna De Boef, and Amber Boydstun

Cambridge University Press, 2008

(Winner, Gladys Kammerer Award from the American Political Science Association for the best book on US national policy, 2008)

Published Reviews

Mentions of our Project or Book in the Press and on the Blogs

A TV interview with Frank Baumgartner discussing the book

Friday, April 4, 2008, 5:30-6:00 pm, Pennsylvania Inside Out, from WPSX-TV. The segment begins with a discussion of the race for in Pennsylvania's 5th congressional distirct. Then, Patty Satalia talks with Penn State political scientist Frank Baumgartner about his new book The Decline of The Death Penalty and the Discovery of Innocence. Dowload and view the podcast. (mp4 format, 30 minutes of video)

The Decline of the Death Penalty in America, Panel Discussion

Presenter(s):Frank R. Baumgartner, Miller-LaVigne Professor of Political Science, Penn State Univ., Harold Wilson - Wrongfully Accused / Former Death Row Inmate, Reverand. Walter Everett; Speaker in Memory of His Son Lost to Murder, Andy Hoover, American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Event Moderator. click here to watch a video of the panel discussion, recorded at Penn State on March 25, 2008.Length: 1 Hour 27 Minutes 23 Seconds.

A Radio Interview with Baumgartner and Boydstun

Title: The Decline of the Death Penalty, Take Note Radio, with Patty Satalia, broadcast by WPSU-FM. Sunday, March 2, 2008, 7:30-8:00 AM. Guests: Frank Baumgartner, Amber Boydstun, & Andrew F. Susko (President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association). In theory, most Americans support the death penalty, but the possibility of mistakes and recent discoveries of innocence have led to historic shifts in public opinion and to a sharp decline in executions. Last fall, the American Bar Association released a study criticizing Pennsylvania's death penalty system. Is capital punishment on its deathbed? Click here to listen to the show (mp3 format, 28 minutes of audio)

An Audio Podcast from the 2011 Midwest Political Science Association meetings

Authors Meet Critics: The Decline of the Death Penalty and the Discovery of Innocence (CUP, 2008) by Frank R. Baumgartner, Suzanna De Boef, and Amber Boydstun


Stefaan Walgrave, University of Antwerp, Chair
Suzanna Linn De Boef, Pennsylvania State University
Amber Ellen Boydstun, University of California, Davis
Frank R. Baumgartner, Universitiy of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Robert S. Erikson, Columbia University
Mark S. Hurwitz, Western Michigan University
Dara Strolovitch, University of Minnesota

Research on Capital Punishment in America

Since 2003 Frank Baumgartner and colleagues have been involved in a project tracing the changing politics and issue-definitions associated with the death penalty. The question is to determine the degree to which the new "innocence" frame is displacing the traditional "morality" frame relating to this issue. Important substantive issues about the future of the death penalty in America can be addressed as well as difficult methodological issues concerning how to study the links among issue-definition, public opinion, the media, and public policy.

With Suzanna De Boef, graduate student Amber Boydstun, and occasional other collaborators on different parts of the project, Baumgartner and others have addressed a number of questions relating to these issues. The research has focused on substantive issues relating to how the media has covered the death penalty (with particular reference to the use of various frames), public opinion (in particular the cognitive process by which individuals react to the "moral" and the "innocence" frame, based on experiments), and the history of the issue since 1960.

Click on the links below to see various papers or presentations drawn from this project.

  • All Frames Are Not Equal: Framing and Conflict Displacement. Suzanna De Boef, Frank R. Baumgartner, Amber E. Boydstun, Frank E. Dardis, and Fuyuan Shen. This paper presents experimental evidence on the effectiveness of three different frames relating to the death penalty: the "innocence" frame as well as the traditional pro- and anti- "morality" frames. The paper was submitted for review to a professional journal in August 2005.
    • Read the Experimental Booklet that we distributed to the participants in our experiment. This explains all the questions they were asked, the stories each group read, and further details relating to our experiment.
  • An Evolutionary Factor Analysis Approach to the Study of Issue-Definition. Paper presented at the annual meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, April 15-18, 2004. (with Suzanna De Boef and Amber E. Boydstun) [updated May 11, 2004]
    • This paper focuses on a methodology to study framing based on evolutionary factor analysis: factor analysis conducted repeatedly over short windows of time, so that we can trace the rise of new issue-definitions dynamically.
    • (Click here to see the original version.) The updated version simply has the formatting and graphs improved. We recommend the corrected version but there are no substantive or textual differences between the two.

Much of the work makes use of a comprehensive coding of New York Times coverage of the death penalty from 1960 to present.

Some Power Point presentations have given overviews of some findings:

Current Research and Work in Progress

In 2009 Baumgartner moved to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He continues his research on capital punishment both in North Carolina and nationally. Below are bits of research in progress from 2009 onwards. In 2017 with a set of student co-authors, much of this ongoing research was published in a new book, Deadly Justice: A Statistical Portrait of the Death Penalty. Click here to go to the web page for that book.

Letters to the editor and guest newspaper columns about capital punishment in North Carolina and nationally

Research reports, presentations, and research in progress.

An idea of the vocabulary we use in the book, courtesy of

updated: April 14, 2017