Opinion

Is concern about crime motivating voters?

The sharpest opinions on the debate from around the web

With the midterms around the corner, Democrats and Republicans are working hard to paint a grim picture of what America will look like if the other party wins. While Democrats have led with warnings about the loss of abortion rights and the looming threat to democracy, Republicans have put forth a platform based on two main topics: Trouble with the economy, and, notably, rising crime.

The GOP believes that the narrative of skyrocketing crime rates in Democrat-led cities and key battleground states will bring voters to their side — however, experts told NPR that data from FBI crime reports are often "both reliable and unreliable," and violent crime, while up, remains significantly lower than it was in the 1990s. 

Given this information, is crime really going to be a significant issue for people in the voting booth, or is it something Republicans are blowing out of proportion? 

Rising crime is a real issue that Americans care about

Some analysts believe crime will be a major issue, including Douglas Schoen and Andrew Stein, who wrote in The Wall Street Journal that "Americans are anxious about crime, and that could spell more trouble for Democrats in November." The pair added, "This rise in crime is largely the byproduct of far-left criminal-justice and policing reforms that Democratic cities and states have adopted over the past few years," such as in Los Angeles and New York City. Schoen and Stein further noted that "crime is also emerging as an issue in Senate races," and urged Democrats "to show they're serious about the issue" if they want to win in November. 

Susan Milligan, a senior politics writer for U.S. News & World Report, had a similar sentiment, writing in an op-ed, "The [public's] perception that their bodies and their streets were less safe became more pervasive." Milligan also noted the tendency of crime — typically seen as a larger issue among conservatives — to be feared even in some liberal cities. "Democratic primary voters in New York City listed crime as their top issue in the mayoral campaign last year ... By spring 2022, the criminal justice dialogue had shifted to increasing anxiety about crime." 

Milligan added that Democrats were seeing challenges on crime even in consistently blue states like New York and California. "Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is facing a surprisingly strong challenge in her ultra-blue state from GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin, who turned nearly every question at their Oct. 25 debate into an answer about crime worries," she wrote. 

Crime is the main issue that is helping Republicans surge in the polls

Republicans have been gaining traction in the midterms. One of the reasons for this, writes The New York Times opinion columnist David Brooks, is that "Democrats were counting on abortion rights to be a big issue, gaining them broad support among female voters. It doesn't seem to be working. Over the past month, the gender gap, which used to favor Democrats, has evaporated."

"Democrats have a crime problem," Brooks concluded. "More than three-quarters of voters say that violent crime is a major problem in the United States, according to a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll. "Many Democrats have walked away from [anti-crime] policies the party embraced [in the 1990s], often for good reasons. But they need to find another set of policies that will make the streets safer." 

While Democrats have continued to assert that Republicans are making crime a bigger issue than it is, Rich Lowry wrote for the Boston Herald, "Crime isn't a racial issue; it's about affording all Americans, and especially vulnerable communities, the protection they deserve from lawlessness. Obviously, violent crime is not a blight on the lives of upper-middle-class white people." 

For example, "[i]n Milwaukee, 87 percent of the victims of homicide this year have been Black or Hispanic, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's tracker," Lowry added. 

Crime is not as big of an issue for voters as Republicans believe 

Many liberal think tanks don't believe crime is the hot-button issue the GOP is trying to make it. Daniel Cox wrote for FiveThirtyEight last year, "Despite polls showing that Americans are increasingly worried about crime, there are a few reasons to believe that it may not be a large issue in the midterm elections next year. The biggest of which is that crime doesn't offer a clear advantage to either political party." 

Cox added, "A June [2021] poll from ABC News/The Washington Post showed almost no difference in which party Americans trusted more to handle crime (35 percent for Democrats, 36 for Republicans)." Cox additionally believed that "the uptick in crime might not affect as many people as it once did, either ... Historian Josh Zeitz suggested that crime resonated as a political issue in the past because its effect was immediately apparent." 

In a more recent op-ed, MSNBC opinion columnist Hayes Brown agreed, saying, "There's often a disconnect between the perception of increased crime in an area and whether that purported increase can accurately be measured. That goes double for a climate like today's, where the GOP is determined to frame cities as liberal-created hellscapes."

"[The GOP's] belief doesn't square with what we know so far this year about crime across the nation — which admittedly is not a lot," Brown added. "Crime statistics are not collected uniformly nationwide, leaving us with large gaps in our understanding. In the absence of accurate and current data, we're left with anecdotes or perceptions."

Crime will not have the impact on the midterms Republicans think it will 

Economist Paul Krugman penned an op-ed in The New York Times titled "Crime: Red Delusions About Purple Reality," in which he wrote, "While the crime surge was real … the perception that it was all about big cities run by Democrats is false. This was a purple crime wave, with murder rates rising at roughly the same rate in Trump-voting red states and Biden-voting blue states." 

"So why do so many people believe otherwise?" Krugman wrote. "One factor is visibility ... Another factor may be the human tendency to believe stories that confirm our preconceptions." Krugman added, "Such misconceptions are made easier by the long-running disconnect between the reality of crime and public perceptions." 

"The breadth of the crime wave, more or less equally affecting red and blue states, rural and urban areas, and so on suggests that it's nobody's fault," Krugman concluded. 

"Beyond crime not being seen as a top problem in the country, it's not an issue that most Americans think the federal government should be working on," CNN's Harry Enten wrote earlier this year. "Although crime is up nationally, it's not seen at this time as a national issue. It's a local one, and the impact it has on voter feelings changes depending on local conditions." 

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