Nov 20, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Everytown claims GOP soft spot on crime and public safety

Photo: Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Democratic wins in Virginia this year underscore how the party could turn concerns over crime into a winning issue in 2024, according to a poll from Everytown for Gun Safety shared exclusively with Axios.

Why it matters: Democratic candidates are likely to use the "public safety framing" that contributed to wins in Virginia as a playbook up and down the ballot next year, said Everytown senior political advisor Charles Boyd Kelly.

  • Everytown is a nonprofit group, founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, that pushes for stricter gun laws.

Driving the news: Democrats in Virginia featured public safety and gun violence prevention prominently in their campaigns as worries over an uptick in crime captured voters' attention.

  • 48% of Virginia battleground voters said that Democrats addressed their concerns about public safety and crime better than Republicans (44%), according to the poll from Everytown for Gun Safety and Schoen Cooperman Research.
  • Concerns over gun violence were a top-three issue for Virginia voters in battleground districts across Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads.
  • 69% of battleground district voters said they were familiar with Democratic candidates' stances on guns — with 53% saying that those positions had a positive impact on their vote.

State of play: More than a dozen battleground candidates in Virginia ran paid media on gun safety and contrasting their platforms with their Republican opponents, Kelly told Axios.

  • "Democratic candidates in Virginia this year focused on flipping the script on the soft-on-crime accusations," he said.
  • "They leaned into the threat posed to public safety and law enforcement by MAGA-Republican opposition to common sense gun safety policies."
  • Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund and Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund invested more than $1.5 million in the 2023 Virginia elections, including running ads hitting Republican candidates over their opposition to changing gun laws.

Zoom in: Virginia's off-year election drew an influx of cash and candidates hit each other most often over handling of abortion, crime and education issues, NBC News reported from AdImpact data.

  • Lee Peters III, a Republican who lost his election for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates that includes Fredericksburg, characterized his Democratic opponent as standing "with extremists who want to defund the police, putting our families at risk."
  • Juan Pablo Segura, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for a state Senate seat that includes Loudoun County, ran an ad portraying a burglar who has to "thank" his opponent, former prosecutor Russet Perry, for allowing "even violent criminals walk easy."

The other side: Democratic prosecutor Buta Biberaj narrowly lost her bid for re-election to remain as the attorney for the Loudoun County Commonwealth to Republican Bob Anderson, who vowed to be tougher on crime.

  • Anderson previously served as the county's top prosecutor from 1996 to 2003.

Zoom out: Republicans criticized Democrats during the 2022 midterms over increasing crime rates, which they sought to blame on progressive support for defunding the police.

  • The 2024 Republican presidential candidates have embraced strict crime stances. They also oppose legislation that would curtail access to guns.
  • "By weakening gun laws and bowing down to the gun lobby, Republicans across the country are ruining the safety and prosperity for all Americans," Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee communications director Abhi Rahman told Axios.

Methodology: Schoen Cooperman Research conducted 900 interviews with 2023 general election voters in battleground districts across Virginia from Nov. 4-8, 2023. The sample consisted of 300 interviews per region in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads. The margin of error is ±3 percentage points.

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