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Heritage Contests Think Tank View That Homicides High In 'Red' States

In January, the Third Way think tank published a report arguing that homicide rates have been higher in “red” states than in “blue” states for the past 20 years. The Heritage Foundation issued its own report, arguing that the Third Way publication "is critically flawed in a number of ways" In Heritage's view, the Third Way fails "to acknowledge that crime is a local phenomenon and that any meaningful analysis needs to be undertaken at the local level.. Also, Third Way "neglected to mention the fact that the electoral map changes over time. States that were 'red' and 'blue' in 2020 did not necessarily vote the same way in prior years." Heritage contends that, "Correcting for these errors shows that crime has been higher in blue counties than in red counties." At the county level, the homicide rate has been higher in Democratic-leaning “blue” counties than in Republican-voting “red” counties since 2002.

Drawing conclusions from state-level homicide data is flawed, as each state consists of a combination of federal, state, county, and local law enforcement agencies, as well as prosecutors with different approaches often based on highly divergent political beliefs, Heritage says. Violations of state law are prosecuted largely at the county or city level. so combining data across those units neglects important variation in these different approaches. Looking at homicide rates by county, states show skewed distributions with many counties having few or no homicides, and a handful of counties with excessively high homicide rates. Thus, state homicide rates can be heavily influenced by a few counties. When those counties have different politics from the rest of the state, it can flip the conclusion about the association between political identifications and homicides, Heritage declares.


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