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Did Media, Republicans Overrate Crime Issue In 2022 Campaigns?

In the weeks leading up to Election Day this year, the media were awash with stories on how Republicans were using attacks on crime to fuel what some believed would be a red wave of Republican victories. Headlines proclaimed that crime was the “dark horse issue of this election,” that Republican attacks on crime had become “devastating for Democrats,” that Republicans were “rid[ing] crime wave worries,” and that there was “high anxiety on the air” over crime. Democrats in New York appear to have suffered repercussions, but in many competitive races where Republicans flooded the airwaves with their crime messaging, like in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, it appears that the media were too hasty to believe that crime was a major deciding issue, Vox reports. In some of the hardest-fought attorneys general races, Democrats were able to diffuse the issue, even turning it to their advantage.

Polling did suggest that a majority of Americans were worried about crime ahead of Election Day. It’s true that the national murder rate remains up over pre-pandemic levels, though it’s well down from its peak in the early 1990s. Republicans spent more than $50 million on crime-related messaging between Labor Day and Election Day — more than every other issue except the economy, found a Washington Post analysis. Even Republicans have admitted that the attacks ultimately fell flat in many places. “You saw the Democrats, at a national level, pivot dramatically from the ‘defund’ movement to all of a sudden representing themselves as the ones defending the police,” said Jason Cabel Roe, a GOP strategist in Michigan, where Republicans saw some of their most devastating losses. “It’s something we should have had an advantage on and we just never really exploited.” In many of the high-profile races where the Republican sought to make crime a major issue, the Democrat ended up winning by a larger margin than expected, such as Democrat John Fetterman's Pennsylvania race against Mehmet Oz for a Senate seat. Crime did seem to play a major role in Democrats’ crushing losses in New York. There were a few unique factors in the state that may have bolstered its resonance, including an explosion in New York City tabloid coverage that may have helped create the perception that crime was worse than it was.


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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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