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It’s the Crime, Stupid

Democrats are losing on "crime" even though they have the most popular policies for dealing with crime: more cops, fewer guns.
November 2, 2022
It’s the Crime, Stupid
(Composite by Hannah Yoest / Shutterstock)

Ahead of the midterms, Republican ad wizards and Media Narrative Setters have determined that crime is a central issue that will propel the coming GOP wave.

So that leaves one to wonder: What is it that these voters want Republicans to do to address crime when they take power?

While polling often reveals that voters are inconsistent, opaque, and downright confused on how they want public policy issues addressed, on matters related to crime and safety the public sentiment is crystal clear.

Voters are looking for someone who wants to:

  • Maintain or increase funding for police (84 percent to 15 percent, Pew)
  • Implement red flag laws (83 percent, Quinnipiac)
  • Investigate police involved in shootings (81 percent support, Ipsos)
  • Put more cops on street patrol (77 percent support, Ipsos)
  • Make 21 minimum age to buy a gun (74 percent, Quinnipiac)
  • Use social workers to help police defuse situations where there are problems (65 percent, ABC/WaPo)
  • Increase funding to build economic opportunities in poor communities (62 percent, Ipsos)
  • Fewer guns (52 percent Quinnipiac)
  • Stricter enforcement of current gun laws (51 percent ABC/WaPo)
  • Ban the purchase AR-15s (50 percent, Quinnipiac)

And I couldn’t find national polling on this, but in places with progressive district attorneys, voters have also shown that there are certain criminal justice reforms they oppose—particularly the elimination of cash bail.

To summarize: Voters want to ensure that police are funded, that there are more cops on the streets, that guns are more difficult to purchase, and that people should be able to have police confiscate weapons from loved ones with mental health issues.

How about in bumper sticker form:

More cops. Fewer guns and violent criminals on the street. 

Or, in other words, exactly the policies that Joe Biden has tried to enact during his first two years and will continue if left to his own devices!

Here is the White House’s fact sheet on the president’s crime priorities: Fund the police, prosecute criminals, address the root causes of crime, take common-sense steps on guns to keep dangerous firearms out of dangerous hands.

Exactly what the people are looking for!

Yet somehow Democrats have got themselves in a situation where the head of their party holds the most popular position on guns and crime—and yet they’re getting crushed on the issue because they’ve let GOP campaign ads, the right wing media ecosystem, and assorted progressive big city prosecutors shape the narrative on the issue rather than doing so themselves.

The result: Voters trust Republicans more on the issue of crime by 15 points. But here’s the kicker: They trust Democrats more on the issue of “gun violence”—by 14 points, a total reversal. The problem is many voters aren’t connecting the two issues, in part because the Democrats haven’t been intentional about doing so.

Of course, it doesn’t help that Republicans have mastered the scary, race-baiting ad featuring the illegal immigrant or shadowy criminal menacing the innocent Real American. But Democrats haven’t run an effective counter to this, even though the opportunity is there.

Where are the scary ads featuring 18-year-olds buying ARs? How about the drunk, abusive dad pulling out his sidearm? Per capita, violent crime is more prevalent in Tennessee and Arkansas than California and New York. Does anyone know that? I don’t think so. In part because until very recently Democratic politicians and their prominent allies haven’t been making the case.

It’s probably too late to make a difference this election cycle, but the lesson should be learned.

Crime doesn’t have to be an issue Democrats cede to the right. If they stick to the policies being pushed by the Biden administration—and attack the handful of progressive prosecutors—then they can go on offense against the Republicans who are standing in the way of real reforms to public safety.

If they did that, by 2024, “crime” could even be a winner for the Dems.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.