Republican politicians regularly claim that Democratic-run cities have seen crime waves caused by poor governance, but a new study shows that murder rates are actually higher in Republican-controlled states and cities.
“We are seeing murder in our cities, all run by Democrats,” former President Donald Trump said at a March 26 rally in Georgia. “People are afraid to go out”
In February, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., blamed Democrats for a 2018 law that reduced some federal prison sentences — even though it was signed by Trump after passing a GOP-controlled Congress. “It was your party that concurrently voted for the First Step Act that left thousands of violent criminals on the streets who have now committed countless violent crimes,” Cotton said during a speech in the Senate.
Last December, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, told Fox News viewers, “America’s finest cities are indeed being ruined by liberal politics: there is a straight line between death and decay and politics liberal.
But a comparison of violent crime rates in jurisdictions controlled by Democrats and Republicans tells a very different story. In fact, new research from the center-left think tank Third Way shows that states won by Trump in the 2020 election have higher murder rates than those carried by Joe Biden. The highest murder rates, according to the study, are often found in conservative rural states.
The study found murder rates in the 25 states Trump carried in 2020 are 40% higher overall than in the states Biden won. (The report used 2020 data because 2021 data is not yet fully available.) The five states with the highest per capita murder rates — Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama and Missouri — are all lean Republicans and voted for Trump.
There are a few examples of states Biden won in 2020 that also have high murder rates per capita, including New Mexico and Georgia, which have the seventh and eighth highest murder rates, respectively. And there are states that support Trump with low murder rates, like Idaho and Utah. Generally speaking, the South, and to a lesser extent the Midwest, has more murders per capita than the Northeast, the Western Interior and the West Coast, according to the study.
These findings are consistent with a trend that has existed for decades, in which the South has higher violent crime rates than the nation as a whole.
“As criminologists, we’ve known that for a while,” Jennifer Ortiz, professor of criminology at Indiana University Southeast, told Yahoo News. “States like Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama have historically had high crime rates.”
Criminologists say research shows that higher rates of violent crime are found in areas with low average levels of education, high poverty rates and relatively modest access to government assistance. These conditions characterize parts of the southern United States.
“They are among the poorest states in our union,” Ortiz said of the Deep South. “They have one of the highest child poverty rates. They are among the least educated states. They are among the states with the highest drug addiction rates. All of these factors contribute to people engaging in criminal behavior.
“I thought it was a really good study,” said Richard Rosenfeld, professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and former president of the American Society of Criminology, the Third Way report told Yahoo News. “In Republican states, states with Republican governors, crime rates tend to be higher. I’m not sure if that has to do with the governor being a Republican, but it’s a fact nonetheless.
(While the Third Way study divided states by presidential vote in 2020, using governor’s party affiliation leads to similar results because most states recently chose the same party for governor and for president. Based on the presidential vote, eight of the 10 states with the highest murder rates are mostly Republican, compared to seven of the top 10 using the governor’s party.)
Although murder rates tend to be highest in the South, the biggest increases in 2020 were seen in the Great Plains and the Midwest, according to Third Way. The largest jumps were recorded in Wyoming (91.7% more than in 2019), South Dakota (69%), Wisconsin (63.2%), Nebraska (59.1%) and Minnesota (58.1%). Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska all voted for Trump and have Republican governors. Wisconsin and Minnesota voted for Biden and are led by Democrats.
Few major cities are governed by Republicans — only 26 of America’s 100 largest cities have Republican mayors — making apples-to-apples comparisons difficult. But cities that have Republican mayors do not have lower murder rates than cities led by Democrats of similar size, the study found.
Some experts warn against the urge to use crime data to quickly score political points.
“Being a Republican or Democratic state or city correlates with many other issues,” David Weisburd, a professor of criminology and executive director of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University, wrote in an email. at Yahoo News. . “This means that the murder rate may be due to the state being Republican, or to the fact that Republican states have many other risk factors related to crime or murder rates. Even with very comprehensive modeling of all these factors, it is very difficult to obtain a valid causal result to explain crime rates.
This argument, however, goes both ways. Weisburd also thinks claims by Trump and other Republicans that Democrats have caused a crime wave in the cities and states they govern are baseless. “I don’t think that argument can be sustained no matter which direction you take it,” Weisburd said.
Murder rates in the United States have risen dramatically in 2020 from record highs, and increases are similar across states, regardless of partisan preference. For homicides in 2020, Third Way found a 32.2% increase in states supporting Trump versus a 30.8% increase in those who voted for Biden. Some states with large cities, such as New York and Pennsylvania, saw above-average increases: New York rose 47% and Pennsylvania 39%. But the biggest increases were in rural Republican-led states, including Montana (+84%) and South Dakota (+81%).
The higher national murder rate is understandably causing public concern, although violent crime remains well below its peak in the early 1990s. “Using FBI data, the violent crime rate has dropped by 49% between 1993 and 2019,” dropping from 757 incidents per 100,000 people to 379 per 100,000, the Pew Research Center noted last November. Between 2019 and 2020, the murder rate fell from 6 homicides per 100,000 population to 7.8 homicides per 100,000, but this is still 22% lower than the 1991 rate of 10 homicides per 100,000.