Miller: Violent crime is certainly affecting some local politics. Voters in America tend to associate mayors, district attorneys, and police chiefs with the day-to-day response to crime. We’re seeing that in San Francisco and in some challenges to mayors and district attorneys elsewhere. In New York, for instance, we’ve heard tougher rhetoric from Democrats than we have over the past decade. It’s an important issue locally—and one that local politicians avoid at their peril.
Nationally, it’s harder to say. The recent wave of mass shootings in the U.S. clearly has national implications. A gun bill might now come out of the U.S. Senate, which is an extraordinary prospect. In the 1980s and ’90s, American politicians used to engage in bidding wars for voter support by demanding ever-longer criminal sentences and other stiff punishments. These are very different times. The ’90s saw an economic boom. The Soviet Union had just collapsed; there was peace. It was an ascendant era for America, so serious violence felt more like an outlier; it was more noticeable.
Today, we have a lot of things going on the minds of U.S. voters: inflation, the January 6 inquiries, anxieties about the state of democracy, and the war in Ukraine. There’s a lot of noise in the political conversation. Whether violent crime will stand out from that in late September and October, before the November midterm elections, is difficult to say. A lot will depend on what happens with the incidence of it.
Bluhm: You made the point back in February that crime is “very easily pushed off the political agenda by the economy or national security.”
Miller: It is. Voters only have so much capacity to think about issues. If a number of significant issues that aren’t about crime rise to the top of the list of things they care about, it could move the issue of crime down the list, even if crime rates themselves remain high. A lot of things can push crime off the agenda. Economic crises, in particular, tend to draw attention away from crime concerns, which is happening to some extent now. So it’s not surprising that we’ve seen these election outcomes we’ve been seeing in American cities, but it’s harder to predict how that will translate into voter priorities for the U.S. midterms this fall.