Americans Are Worried About Crime, But That Doesn’t Mean They’re Blaming Democrats

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Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Rising murder, aggravated assault and auto theft rates have increased concern about crime among the American public. According to polling from YouGov/The Economist, the share of Americans who say crime is the most important issue facing America has increased since President Biden took office — to a greater degree than any issue except national security. Relatedly, a May 22-25 Fox News poll found that 73 percent of registered voters thought there was more crime nationwide than there was a year earlier. Only 17 percent thought there was less crime, and 7 percent thought the level of crime had stayed about the same. 

Fewer, but still a majority, believed crime was up in their local area, too: 54 percent, compared with 28 percent who thought there was less crime in their area and 15 percent who thought it was about the same. (It’s worth noting, though, that Americans perpetually believe that crime is on the rise, even when it is not.)

A Gallup poll earlier this year also found that only 27 percent of Americans were satisfied with the nation’s policies to reduce or control crime, and that 65 percent were dissatisfied. That’s a big change from 2020, when 47 percent were satisfied and 49 percent were dissatisfied. 

Altogether, this has sparked a narrative that the rise in violent crime poses a political problem for Democrats, who are the ruling party and also traditionally perceived as softer on crime. But at this point, it’s not really clear that the crime issue will hurt Democrats and anti-police progressives politically. For starters, Americans are actually pretty divided on what the best solution to stopping crime is. In a YouGov/Yahoo News poll from May 24-26, 32 percent of adults said that law enforcement is not tough enough on most offenders — but about the same amount, 27 percent, said law enforcement is too tough on most offenders. (Eighteen percent thought law enforcement’s level of toughness was about right, while 22 percent weren’t sure.)

The public is also pretty sharply divided on whether Democrats or Republicans are better on the issue of crime. When asked whether Biden or former President Donald Trump has done a better job handling crime, 34 percent of respondents to the YouGov/Yahoo poll said Trump, while 32 percent said Biden. (Fifteen percent thought the two were about equally good on crime.) Of course, this just mirrors people’s existing partisan preferences — a majority of Republicans preferred Trump’s handling, while a majority of Democrats preferred Biden’s — but that just bolsters the theory that crime isn’t an issue that’s changing anybody’s mind.

Similarly, in elections so far in 2021, it also doesn’t look like crime is driving voters toward more conservative candidates. True, this week’s Democratic primary for mayor of New York City focused heavily on crime, and the winner was most likely Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, arguably the race’s most pro-police candidate. But there are plenty of counterexamples: In the Democratic primary for Philadelphia district attorney, incumbent Larry Krasner — the George Washington of the progressive criminal-justice movement — handily defeated a moderate who attempted to tie Krasner’s policies to Philadelphia’s rising crime rate. And in this month’s special election for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, the Republican candidate ran what was virtually a single-issue campaign on crime and policing issues; Democrat Melanie Stansbury ended up winning by 25 percentage points, exceeding the district’s D+18 partisan lean.1

It’s possible crime emerges as a wedge issue in the 2022 midterms. But so far, there’s little evidence that it is helping one party over the other.

Other polling bites

As Arizona Republicans are wrapping up their inquisition into ballots cast in the 2020 election, Monmouth University found that 57 percent of adults believed these so-called audits are “partisan efforts to undermine valid election results.” Only 33 percent identified them as “legitimate efforts to identify potential voting irregularities.” “Critical race theory” — a school of thought that dissects how racism pervades institutions — has recently become a Republican bogeyman, but at this point, it hasn’t gained a lot of traction among Democrats. According to a Morning Consult/Politico survey, 30 percent of Republican voters have heard a lot about the theory, while only 21 percent of Democratic voters have. And when asked to explain what critical race theory is in their own words, Democrats (47 percent) used neutral terms to describe it like a “history of racism in America” or “a movement of civil-rights,” while a supermajority of Republicans (78 percent) used negative ones like “a farce” or “a Marxist proposal.”This week, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed a ruling that the NCAA cannot limit the compensation of student athletes. In a flash poll conducted on Tuesday, YouGov found that American adults overwhelmingly supported the decision, 64 percent to 16 percent.This year, legislators in more than 20 states have introduced bills that would ban transgender student athletes from playing on the team of the gender they identify with. A new YouGov/CBS News poll found that adults believed, 60 percent to 40 percent, that transgender student athletes should play on the team of their sex assigned at birth. However, respondents who personally knew a transgender person believed they should play on the team that matches their gender identity, 55 percent to 45 percent.You know how you know logically that you should eat more vegetables, but you just never seem to live up to it? We found the political equivalent. According to YouGov, 73 percent of adults thought it was “very important” to vote in local elections. But in reality, nowhere near 73 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in local elections; for example, in this week’s New York City mayoral primary, only 18-20 percent of voting-age citizens cast ballots. Heck, 73 percent of eligible voters don’t even vote in presidential elections; according to political scientist Michael McDonald, only 67 percent of eligible voters voted in the 2020 general election.

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,2 52.6 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 42.2 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of +10.5 points). At this time last week, 51.9 percent approved and 42.0 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of +9.9 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 54.3 percent and a disapproval rating of 40.3 percent, for a net approval rating of +14.0 points.

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