A new poll, conducted by YouGov and Yahoo News, has revealed that most Americans think that violent crime is either a “very” or “somewhat big” issue. The survey, conducted between May 24th-May 26th, found out that 84% of Americans consider crime a big problem, with 49% saying it was a “very big” problem while 35% of those surveyed say it was a “somewhat” big problem. Biden’s handling on this issue did receive particularly good marks, with only 36% approving of his job and the rest either disapproving (44%) or not having an opinion (21%).
Americans consider crime a bigger issue than the pandemic or the economy. For comparison, 68% of Americans consider that the COVID-19 pandemic is either a very or somewhat big problem, 70% of adult Americans think that race relations are a big problem, and 80% of those surveyed think the same about the economy.
The growing concern Americans are having over crime seems to defy partisan divisions: 88% of Republicans think crime is a big problem, as well as 84% of Democrats and Independents. The trend also seems to be widely shared, as Americans believe that crime is a big problem despite their race, gender, income or age.
Most Americans think crime is a big problem, but there are some partisan and racial divides on police issues
In another question, more Americans are also more concerned about crime in their community than in police brutality against minorities. 48% thinking that the former is a more pressing issue than the latter, while 38% are more concerned about police brutality, and 14% not sure how to respond. However, these numbers are heavily influenced by party affiliation, as 67% of Democrats think police brutality is a bigger issue, while 74% of Republicans consider crime to be more important.
Similarly, another issue where there is a partisan divide is in that of cutting funds to the police, which is opposed by 57% of the population. Republicans are almost universally united against the measure (84% oppose it) and a vast majority of Independents also think the same (62%), while Democrats are almost equally divided over the issue, with 36% supporting it and 38% opposing it.
In both of these questions, there is also a significant divide based on the race of the respondent. A significant majority of whites are willing to say that crime against their community is more important than police brutality against minorities (57%), an overwhelming majority of black respondents think that police brutality is more worrisome (70%), Hispanics are almost equally divided on the issue, with 41% being more worried about police brutality and 42% more concerned about crime.
In the issue of defunding the police, there is also a racial divide, with whites being more likely than blacks and Hispanics to oppose cutting additional funds to the police. However, even within minorities, the proposal to reduce funding to police departments is not very popular, only 35% of blacks and 24% of Hispanics support it.
The unpopularity of the “defund the police” movement appears to have also reached the halls of power, with mayors in many cities rushing to reverse some of the budget cuts they implemented last year. With New York City proposing a $92 million reinstation to the NYPD, and Baltimore deciding to increase police funding to $27 million, after a $22 million cut last year.
The politics of the rise of crime
This poll comes at a time when violent crime is starting to poise itself as a crucial issue in the minds of both voters and policymakers around the country. According to data collected by the Wall Street Journal, there was a 24% increase in reported homicides among the nation’s top 50 cities during 2020.
The trend appears to have continued in 2021, with local officials concerned that their cities will have to withstand a bloody summer due to the increase in violent crime. Such concerns are well-founded as Chicago has reported a four-year high of 195 people killed and 1,300 people shot, and Atlanta is facing a homicide rate that is 50% higher this year than the last one.
If the current rise in crime continues, something that is still up in the air, then it would be inevitable that the issue will be in the minds of the voters once the 2022 midterm elections. If so, this presents both a golden opportunity for the GOP and a potential headache for Joe Biden and his Democrats.
Republicans would certainly pin the responsibility of the increasingly violent state in American cities on the party in charge, the Democrats. Furthermore, they will most likely run a campaign promising a return to policies that are harder on crime than those proposed by the Democrats. After all, already 50% of Republicans think that current law enforcement policies are not tough enough on offenders.
Democrats will be in a tight spot if the trend continues, they will receive most of the blame (many of America’s biggest cities are run by Democrats) for the crime rise, and Biden will not be as able to turn to policies that are harsher on criminals due to the opinions of his base, as “tough on crime” bills would certainly be criticized by some of their base as unfairly targeting minorities.
We still do not know if the crime rise is an aftermath of COVID, hopefully receding as the nation returns to normal, or if it is a new issue that will need to be confronted by policymakers around the country. What we do know, however, is that a substantial majority of Americans think crime is a major problem, something that both Republicans and Democrats are surely closely following as they start to gear up for 2022.