Abstract The death penalty is like no other punishment. Its continued existence in many countries of the world creates political tensions within these countries and between governments of retentionist and abolitionist countries. After the Second World War, more and more countries have abolished the death penalty. This article argues that the major determinants of this global trend towards abolition are political, a claim which receives support in a quantitative cross-national analysis from 1950 to 2002. Democracy, democratisation, international political pressure on retentionist countries and peer group effects in relatively abolitionist regions all raise the likelihood of abolition. There is also a partisan effect, as abolition becomes more likely if the chief executive’s party is left wing-oriented. Cultural, social and economic determinants receive only limited support. The global trend towards abolition will go on if democracy continues to spread around the world and abolitionist countries stand by their commitment to press for abolition all over the world.
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