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Democrats Play Defense On Crime Policy, Lacking Clear Message

Some things about elections are easy to predict, such as Republicans attacking Democrats on crime. Yet Democrats seem to have no answer to the attacks being lobbed at them in the final weeks of the midterm campaign. Crime's causes are hard to understand and harder to influence. The trends run in long cycles, and although policy changes can alter the trends, they don’t do it quickly or simply. Expecting any candidate, or any party, to have a genuine answer to crime would be absurd. Crime is also politically potent, as Republicans grasp, and is fertile ground for attacks both fair and demagogic. In key races, Republicans have accused Democrats of being soft and ineffective on crime. They’ve attacked incumbents for presiding over rising violence and challengers for having supported cuts in police spending.

The Democratic Party’s situation is tougher. Pollster Stan Greenberg has found that worry about rising crime under Democrats is a more potent fear than any other issue this cycle, The Atlantic reports. As the party in power in Washington, it has to play defense. Any message must satisfy swing voters and older Black voters worried about crime without alienating younger and more liberal voters who want justice reforms. The simplest answers are likely to undercut the party’s stated commitment to social justice and greater racial equality, and its conclusion that crime is best treated through root causes. "The party is left without a message—much less an actual policy—that steers between being electorally disastrous and morally monstrous," writes David Graham. Whatever the actual data, Americans are freaked out about crime. A Gallup poll last week found that 78 percent of Americans say crime is increasing nationwide, matching the figure from 2020. The all-time record, 89 percent, was set in 1992, when crime in fact hit its recorded high. For the first time since 2016, a majority of Americans say they worry a “great deal” about crime. Less than a quarter are satisfied with crime policies—a 50 percent drop from 2020. More than seven in 10 say crime will be very or extremely important in their vote for Congress.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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