Jan 27, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Not an anomaly: 2020's red states have higher murder rates

Reproduced from Third Way; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from Third Way; Chart: Axios Visuals

The murder rates in Trump-voting states from 2020 have exceeded those in Biden-voting states every year since 2000, according to a new analysis by ThirdWay, a center-left think tank.

Why it matters: Republicans have built their party on being the crime-fighting candidates, even as murder rates in red states have outpaced blue states by an average of 23% over the past two decades.

  • Four reliably-red states consistently made the top of the list — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Missouri.

Driving the news: Third Way's report analyzed homicide data for all 50 states from 2000 through 2020, using CDC data.

  • They used the 2020 presidential election results to characterize "red states" from the "blue states."
  • The findings build on a previous Third Way report that only analyzed murder rates from 2019-2020. This time, they write, they wanted "to see if this one-year Red State murder epidemic was an anomaly."

Zoom out: In Oct. 2022 — just before the 2022 midterm elections — a record-high 56% of Americans said there was more crime where they live, per Gallup.

  • That included 73% of Republicans and a whopping 51% of Independents.
  • Both parties rushed to spend tens of millions of dollars on crime ads that month.

Between the lines: The political implications don't always match the reality.

  • "Crime has historically been a very potent political issue. It’s also very anecdote driven," said Jim Kessler, Third Way's executive vice president for policy.
  • Murder isn't the only crime committed or discussed, but Third Way hopes to combat the "media and political narrative that crime is a Democratic problem, occurring mostly in big blue cities and fueled by lax policies," they write.

What to watch: Democratic messaging on the issue in the 2024 cycle and whether there are renewed divisions between Democratic Party leaders and members of Congress — particularly after party infighting blamed progressives’ “defund the police” slogan for down-ballot losses in 2020.

Methodology: Data is based on death certificates collected by state registries and provided to the National Vital Statistics System. To allow for comparison, Third Way calculated the state’s per capita murder rate, the number of murders per 100,000 residents, and categorized states by their presidential vote in the 2020 election, resulting in an even 25-25 state split.

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