“You can’t make this stuff up. Eight of the top ten murder states, in terms of the increase in murder rates, are all red states,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom charged last week. Newsom charged that in general, “red” states that voted for Donald Trump do more poorly than “blue” states that supported President Biden in the 2020 election. He tweeted an excerpt from an interview that has been viewed more than 3 million times — with a line with a little less nuance: “8 of the top 10 murder states are red.” Newsom’s point was that states that supported Biden have a good story to tell and should go on the offense against Republicans who decry rising crime rates, reports the Washington Post Fact Checker. “How are we losing these debates?” he said. “We got to go on the offense.” Newsom spokesman Nathan Click says the data are derived from reports by Third Way, a left-leaning policy group, about the “red state murder problem.” The first report, using crime statistics released by state governments, said eight of the 10 states with the highest murder rates in 2020 voted for Trump. A later report, relying on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said “solidly red states have dominated the top 10 murder rate states for the past decade — some for each of the last 21 years.”
The CDC data shows that in 2019, eight of the top 10 states voted for Trump; in 2020, seven of the top 10 did. The report said the gap in murder rates between red and blue states has widened, from a low of a nine percent gap in 2003 and 2004 to a high of 44 percent in 2019. Experts question whether politics, as opposed to social conditions, is a deciding factor in the high homicide rates. Using the 2020 electoral college map as a proxy for blue and red states glosses over whether Democrats or Republicans run individual states. The top 10 states by murder rate in 2020 were Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Illinois, Maryland and Georgia. The last three are listed by Third Way as “blue” states, though Georgia only narrowly voted for Biden in 2020. “If politics plays a role, it’s a minor role,” said Tod Burke, a former police officer and professor emeritus in the Department of Criminal Justice at Radford University. He said the South traditionally has had higher poverty rates, more economic disadvantages and a culture of guns that leads to more violence.