Crime and public safety are among the issues that have taken center stage in many US midterm election races nationwide.
More than three-quarters of voters said violent crime is a major problem in the United States, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll in October. Only 17 percent of respondents called crime a minor problem, and 2 percent said it was not a problem at all.
About three-quarters of poll respondents said that they thought violent crime is increasing nationally, and 88 percent said it is either increasing or staying the same in their own communities.
In the poll, 60 percent said crime would play a major role in deciding who they would vote for, exceeded only by economic concerns and abortion access.
In a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Oct 25, respondents were twice as likely to list crime rather than abortion rights as the country's biggest problem.
"There's definitely a number of Democrats trying to make clear that they share voters' concerns about crime and that they'll do everything they can to make sure law enforcement has the resources they need," Pia Carusone, managing director at political consultancy SKDK, who is working on multiple competitive House races, told Reuters.
In a letter to Democratic colleagues last Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on House members to make a point of defending their record on crime.
"I write to convey the importance of emphasizing Democrats' unyielding commitment to public safety — which is at the heart of our People Over Politics Agenda," the letter read.
The Reuters poll also displays why the issue of public safety is so potent for Republicans this year. The poll found that more voters think Republicans are better suited to deal with crime than Democrats, 39 percent to 30 percent.
And an Oct 7-9 Morning Consult poll shows a similar result — while 62 percent said that crime and policing are key to their vote in the midterms, just 31 percent of voters thought the Biden administration was making crime a top priority.
Republicans are repeating a page from their 2020 playbook by accusing Democrats of being soft on crime. The GOP spent nearly $40 million on crime-related messaging in September, according to NPR.
Republican groups including Citizens for Sanity, headed by former aides to former president Donald Trump, poured money in recent weeks into advertisements criticizing Democrats as weak on crime and illegal immigration.
Races in Pennsylvania, New York and Wisconsin have narrowed following a barrage of political advertisements on the crime issue.
In New York, Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul has seen her lead over Republican challenger Lee Zeldin shrink to single digits in some polls after Zeldin has hammered her over crime.
In Pennsylvania, the Republican US Senate nominee, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, has closed the gap with John Fetterman with a steady stream of ads accusing the Democratic candidate of releasing criminals from jail when he was chair of the state pardons board.
"The problem with all of these conservative critiques is that crime went up everywhere," Thomas Abt told Reuters, who chairs the violent-crime working group at the Council on Criminal Justice.
"It went up in red states, it went up in blue states, it went up in cities controlled by Republican mayors and cities controlled by Democratic mayors. It went up in cities, also in the suburbs, also in rural areas," he said.
Data from the federal government and third-party groups suggest crime has slowed or even decreased after surging in 2020, although murders remain higher than before the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2021, the most recent year for which data are available data from the FBI, violent crime overall dropped in 2021, while murders rose 4.3 percent, though a change in the bureau's methodology means some police departments were unable to report crime statistics.
FBI data show that the murder rate rose nearly 30 percent from 2019 to 2020 — the largest annual increase ever recorded.