Our new book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. Among other things, it discusses issues such as crime.
William Galston at Brookings notes that violent crime is getting worse.
The most recent detailed survey, completed on May 26 by YouGov, illuminates these trends. Asked which issues were “very big problems,” 49% of Americans place violent crime at the top of the list, compared to 39% for the economy and just 32% for the pandemic. Forty-five percent of Democrats regard violent crime as a very big problem, a surprising finding explained in part by the fact that 59% of Blacks and 52% of Hispanics put it in this category.
The politics of violent crime is complex. On the one hand, by a margin of 51 to 41 percent, Americans agree that “there is a problem with systemic racism in policing.” Conservatives offering the familiar exculpatory mantra—“a few bad apples”—are losing credibility. On the other hand, only 23% of Americans think that cutting funding for police departments is the correct response. Only 35% of Blacks, 26% of Hispanics, and 36% of Democrats endorse funding cuts. Across the board, most Americans want fairer policing, not less policing.
During his presidential race, Joe Biden understood these sentiments and briskly rejected demands to “defund the police.” Across the country, Democratic mayors have refused to do so, including some who initially supported these demands.
Still, official statistics support public perceptions that violent crime is getting worse, and elected officials from the top on down are likely to be held responsible. Only 36% of Americans approve of President Biden’s handling of this issue, far fewer than for his management of the pandemic (54%) and the economy (45%). And the administration’s efforts to craft an effective response will face a Democratic Party that is divided on the issue, giving Republicans an opportunity to gain ground on it.
But a SCOTUS decision striking down Roe could change everything.
As of now, Republicans are more mobilized to oppose the Biden administration than Democrats are to support it, an asymmetry that could produce the mirror image of the 2018 midterms, when Democrats scored big gains and retook the majority in the House of Representatives. The Supreme Court could change this dynamic in a hurry. Democrats—especially Democratic women—would be protesting in the streets, and many independents and suburban Republicans would join them. Moderate Democrats for whom much of the Biden agenda is politically problematic would be handed an issue that enjoys majority support in their districts, complete with an identifiable enemy who evokes passionate opposition. This single issue would counterbalance Democrats’ political vulnerabilities on other fronts and could enable them to retain control of the House.