by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A rise in violent crime is endangering slim Democratic congressional majorities more than a year out from the midterm elections and threatening to revive “law and order” as a major campaign issue for Republicans for the first time since the 1990s.
Homicides in cities were up 25 percentage points to 40% last year, the biggest single-year increase since 1960, a trend that has not abated so far in 2021. Sixty-three of the 66 largest police jurisdictions saw a rise in at least one category of violent crime, ranging from homicide and rape to robbery and assault, according to the Major Cities Chiefs Association. Homicides and shootings have gone up for three straight years in Washington, D.C., and at least a dozen mass shootings were reported nationwide over the weekend.
Democrats’ flirtations with defunding the police — a handful of lawmakers on the Left nearly scuttled a $1.9 billion Capitol security bill in the House — may make them ill equipped to handle the reemergence of crime as a top issue for voters. A reduction in the violent crime rate that began in the 1990s led to this concern receding at the ballot box, likely to the net benefit of Democratic candidates.
Former President Donald Trump ran hard against violence in major cities last year and frequently invoked the phrase “law and order.” Despite his loss to President Joe Biden and the preference of some Republican operatives for an emphasis on public safety rather than well-worn anti-crime catchphrases Trump tended to use, his hard-line stance still drew votes.
A top Democratic data scientist estimated that rising anxiety about crime and perceptions that Democrats did not support law enforcement drove more conservative-leaning nonwhite voters, especially Hispanics, to cast their ballots for Trump even though Biden disavowed the phrase “defund the police.”