Crime–And That Pesky Data…

Last year, Indiana held municipal elections, and in Indianapolis, the Republican candidate for Mayor focused a lot of his attention on crime, especially “urban” crime. (Dog whistle, anyone??) Despite pouring some thirteen million dollars of his own money into that race, he failed to exceed the GOP’s baseline vote. Nevertheless, I expected that similar allegations about urban crime would form a large part of this year’s federal election strategy.

I now think I was wrong. Trump’s efforts to destroy a bipartisan agreement on immigration–an agreement that gave Republicans a number of things they’d long been seeking–was based entirely upon the GOP’s need to feature immigration as the campaign issue. Republicans aren’t even pretending otherwise; several GOP congressmen have admitted that, thanks to the lunatic caucus’ intransigence and refusal to do the jobs they were elected to do, they accomplished nothing and have nothing else to run on. So crime will likely take a back seat to the “immigration crisis” –a crisis the GOP has purposely sustained. To the extent crime enters the dialogue, it will be attributed to “those people” at the border.

Still, it’s worthwhile to examine the repeated misinformation about America’s crime problems, and a recent Substack letter did just that.

The letter pointed to another reason that crime rates might take a back seat in the upcoming campaigns: those rates have been coming down.

The number of murders in U.S. cities fell by more than 12 percent — which would be the biggest national decline on record. The spike that started in 2020 now looks more like a blip, and the murder rate is lower than it was during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. The recent data also suggests that the violent-crime rate in 2023 was near its lowest level in more than 50 years.

What about blaming Democratic mayors for crime?

Several Republicans have noted that 27 of the 30 cities with the highest homicide rate have Democratic Mayors. But most cities of any size have Democratic mayors: among the  50 largest cities, 37 have Democratic Mayors. “If you go even further to the top 100 Cities — they have Democratic Mayors 63% of the time and have 76% of the population.”

Republicans have also insisted that an “urban crime increase” is due to the election of “progressive” Prosecutors. The linked letter describes several academic studies that  convincingly disprove that thesis, along with bogus claims that police forces have been “defunded.” Actually (despite one of the stupidest political slogans ever) most police departments have seen their budgets increase in the last 3 years.

It also turns out that crime is lower in those Democratic “urban” areas than in those “real American” Red states.

And for future reference, we can also debunk the “Crime in Democrat cities” by looking at where crime actually happens -— and that’s in Red States.

The murder rate in the 25 states that voted for Donald Trump has exceeded the murder rate in the 25 states that voted for Joe Biden in every year from 2000 to 2020.

Over this 21-year span, this Red State murder gap has steadily widened from a low of 9% more per capita red state murders in 2003 and 2004 to 44% more per capita red state murders in 2019, before settling back to 43% in 2020.

Altogether, the per capita Red State murder rate was 23% higher than the Blue State murder rate when all 21 years were combined.

If Blue State murder rates were as high as Red State murder rates, Biden-voting states would have suffered over 45,000 more murders between 2000 and 2020.

Even when murders in the largest cities in red states are removed, overall murder rates in Trump-voting states were 12% higher than Biden-voting states across this 21-year period and were higher in 18 of the 21 years observed.

Unsurprisingly, the gun crime rate in rural areas is also higher than in urban areas.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Surgery found that firearm deaths are more likely in small rural towns than in major urban cities, adding to research that contradicts common belief that Democratic blue areas have higher incidences of gun-related deaths than do Republican red districts.

The linked Substack letter is lengthy, and reports the results of numerous studies–if you are interested in an in-depth analysis of existing research, it’s well worth reading in its entirely. But one nugget I found especially interesting was the observation that there is a lot that cities are trying to do to address gun violence  … but many of them are  “hamstrung by state policies and can’t control the flow of guns or how guns are carried in their cities.” When there is no local control there’s only so much city officials can do.

In Indianapolis, our urban hands are tied by the gun zealots in our embarrassing state legislature.


The Real Lesson From Iowa

Robert Hubbell’s Substack analysis of the Iowa Republican caucus focused on a point I keep hammering: turnout–getting out the vote–is far and away the most important imperative of this year’s election cycle.

There is a mountain of social science data confirming that high-turnout elections benefit Democrats. There’s a reason the GOP does everything in its power to suppress the vote. By far the most effective suppression comes from gerrymandering–voters in districts drawn to be “safe” for a party they don’t support feel–not illogically–that their votes won’t count, so why bother? It will be critically important to remind those voters that statewide races and the popular vote for President are not subject to gerrymandering. With the exception of the potential operation of the Electoral College, those votes will absolutely count.

Hubbell makes the argument for the importance of turnout in the context of Iowa’s (weird) caucus system. He begins by looking at the composition of those who did turn out:

Among those who attended the caucuses, most voters hold extremist views. Those views are reprehensible and deserve to be condemned. But those who showed up on Monday were mostly Trump loyalists who represent the slimmest majority possible of voters in Iowa.

Although Hubbell doesn’t mention it, this feature of caucus turnout is equally true of turnout in state primaries. The typically low primary turnout is characterized by votes from the most passionate–and extreme–members of both parties. And those voters do not reflect majority sentiments.

So, as we collectively talk about the results in Iowa, it is important to realize that 49% of those who voted on a bitterly cold night (-3 Fahrenheit) did not support Trump. Most of the voters who opposed Trump do not condone his views about immigrants poisoning the blood of America, or his opponents being “vermin,” or his belief that the 2020 election was “rigged.”…

As we move forward in the 2024 campaign, let’s remember that there are Democrats, Independents, and Republicans in Iowa who will not support Trump. Our job is to convince them to show up for Biden. Lumping them in with MAGA extremists is not an effective way of achieving that goal.

And the same applies to every so-called “red state.” In every state, there are local and statewide offices that can be flipped—something that will help limit and blunt the effect of Republican control of statehouses and governors’ mansions.

So, let’s set aside the notion that red states are a lost cause and do not deserve our attention or support. Not only do they deserve our help, but they are the front line of resistance—just like the Democrats, Independents, and Republicans who chose not to vote for Trump on Monday.

Turnout in Iowa was low— only 110,298 voters participated in the GOP caucuses, amounting to about 19% of the 594,533 “active” registered Republicans . Of those, 51%  voted for Trump (or 52,260). So Trump’s “big” victory in Iowa was “achieved with support from 7% of Iowa Republicans—or 3% of Iowa’s 1,518,280 active voters.”

Trump’s victory on Monday night was decided by the 97% of Iowa voters who “did not vote” in the caucuses. So, before we over-interpret the result on Monday, we must recognize that the potential for a devastating defeat for Trump is within our reach—assuming that we can motivate sufficient turnout. (emphasis mine)

So, as we face the onslaught of polls in the coming primary season predicting doom for Democrats, we must always remember that turnout can beat any poll.

As Hubbell reminds his readers, the Iowa caucus results affirm a fundamental truth: It all comes down to turnout.

Even in dramatically-gerrymandered Indiana, if a significant percentage of the disaffected voters in “safe” districts voted, a number of the districts would no longer be safe. Republican victories in Indiana are increasingly dependent upon low turnout–especially in the more rural areas of the state that have been steadily losing population.

Hubbell is absolutely right when he insists that Democrats cannot afford to write off Red states this year, of all years.

We need to make the strongest possible case– to apathetic and/or disheartened Democrats as well as to Independents and any remaining sane Republicans– that their votes are needed to save the Constitution, protect democracy, and remove the GOP crazies’ stranglehold that currently prevents Congress from functioning.

For those of us who have felt helpless against the drumbeat of depressing news, there is one thing we each can do: we can encourage everyone we know to register and we can follow up to ensure that they actually vote.


An Even Bigger “Big Sort”

I’ve referred previously to the important 2004 book The Big Sort, which documented the way in which Americans have been “sorting” ourselves by choosing to live in areas we find philosophically and politically compatible. The book, by Bill Bishop, cast light on one of the underappreciated reasons Americans are so culturally and politically divided.

Much more recently, a lengthy article fromThe New Republic documented a sharp increase in that sorting. Red states have been bleeding college graduates for a while now–in Indiana, the “brain drain” is a persistent source of concern at the statehouse– but there is considerable evidence that “hard-right social policies in red states are making this dynamic worse.”

Let me just quote a few paragraphs from the article, which–as I indicated–is lengthy.

The number of applications for OB-GYN residencies is down more than 10 percent in states that have banned abortion since Dobbs. Forty-eight teachers in Hernando County, Florida, fed up with “Don’t Say Gay” and other new laws restricting what they can teach, resigned or retired at the end of the last school year. A North Carolina law confining transgender people to bathrooms in accordance with what it said on their birth certificate was projected, before it was repealed, to cost that state $3.76 billion in business investment, including the loss of a planned global operations center for PayPal in Charlotte. A survey of college faculty in four red states (Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina) about political interference in higher education found a falloff in the number of job candidates for faculty positions, and 67 percent of the respondents said they would not recommend their state to colleagues as a place to work. Indeed, nearly one-third said they were actively considering employment elsewhere.

Until very recently, college graduates had split their votes between the parties. But with the arrival of Donald Trump,

college graduates left the Republican fold for the foreseeable future. Trump dropped the Republican share to 44 percent in 2016 and 43 percent in 2020. If Trump wins the nomination in 2024, the GOP’s share of college voters could drop below 40, and I don’t see any of Trump’s challengers for the Republican nomination doing much better. It isn’t clear they even want to, because today’s GOP sees college graduates as the enemy.

Then there’s the accelerating exodus of OB-GYNs from states governed by Republicans who–in Barney Frank’s memorable phase–believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.

It was hard enough for red states to hold onto their OB-GYNs even before Dobbs. A little more than one-third of all counties nationwide are “maternity care deserts,” typically in rural areas, with no hospitals or birthing centers that offer obstetric care and no individual obstetric providers (not even midwives), according to the March of Dimes.

It isn’t just OB-GYNs and the relative handful of doctors who assist transgender children. It’s also educators.

Since January 2021, 18 states have imposed restrictions on how teachers may address the subjects of race and gender, according to Education Week’s Sarah Schwartz. These include most of the Dobbs Fourteen and a few add-ons, including Florida and New Hampshire. According to a 2022 study by the RAND Corporation, legislative action not only accelerated after 2021 but also became more repressive, extending beyond the classroom to restrict professional development plans for teachers. Let’s call these teacher-harassing states the Morrison Eighteen, in honor of the late Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, whose The Bluest Eye is number three with a bullet on the American Library Association’s 2022 list of books most frequently targeted for removal. (The 1970 novel ranked eighth in 2021 and ninth in 2020.)

Taking a tour of the Morrison Eighteen, we find Texas teachers quitting at a rate that’s 25 percent above the national average. In Tennessee, the vacancy rate for all public schools is 5.5 percent, compared to a national average of 4 percent. South Carolina has teacher shortages in 17 subject areas this school year, more than any other state.

But Governor Ron DeSantis’s Florida is the undisputed champ. A 2022 study led by Tuan D. Nguyen of Kansas State University found that Florida had the most teacher vacancies in the country, followed by Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama (all Morrison Eighteen states). Florida also logged the highest number of under-qualified teachers.

Remember John Edwards theme of “Two Americas”? He wasn’t talking about the culture wars then, but the phrase certainly seems appropriate.

In 2010, the GOP’s incredibly successful Redmap project--its “gerrymander on steroids”–installed rightwing legislators in a number of formerly competitive states. Those lawmakers proceeded to pass the culture war policies that are motivating the exodus of educated citizens and professionals–aka “smarty pants”–  resented by the angry know-nothings who are now the GOP’s base voters.

And so here we are. Click through, read the entire article, and weep….


How Is State-Level Theocracy Working Out?

A while back, I read an article detailing the various social deficits of Red states–documenting the greater incidence of a wide variety of social ills in states governed by the GOP. Those problems included everything from more spousal abuse to more obesity; more teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease; more bankruptcies and greater poverty; worse maternal and infant mortality numbers; more rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults; more student dropouts, more people on welfare, more homelessness; more gun deaths…

It was a long– grim–list.

The post came with hyperlinks, and I clicked through (and did some supplemental research), to confirm the accuracy of the list–which was even more extensive than the items I’ve shared.

The obvious question is: why? Why is there such a difference between Red and Blue states, all of which are part of the United States and all of which presumably participate to some extent in the same national culture? I could understand differences attributable to climate, to industry, to location, to economy–but why would there be such stark social differences based on a state’s political orientation?

The only answer that makes sense is rooted in the very different policy preferences of today’s Republican and Democratic politicians. A past state history of racism undoubtedly factors in, but the article noted that many of the policies that produce these socially problematic results stem from the GOP’s embrace in 1980 of what it termed “religious grifters.”

Prior to 1980,

George HW Bush and his wife Barbara had been big advocates for Planned Parenthood and a woman’s right to choose an abortion.  Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, had signed the nation’s single most liberal abortion law and was also an outspoken supporter of Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood.

Similarly, the white evangelical movement prior to 1980 was largely supportive of abortion rights.  They were furious, however, when the Supreme Court banned preacher-led school prayer and in the late 1970s Jimmy Carter pulled the tax exemptions of segregated schools run by white evangelicals.

As I have previously noted, historians of religion have documented the Religious Right’s  tactical decision to focus on abortion to turn out Evangelical voters.

Weyrich and Falwell realized that the tax exemption issue based on racial discrimination had limited value, but opposing abortion was a moral issue cutting across racial and religious lines. That was their thinking on the eve of the 1980 elections.

The election that year saw the first full merger in American history between a major political party and a religious movement largely run by grifters.

The GOP also adopted Falwell’s call for a return to school prayer, hostility to sex education, rejection of women’s rights, assertion of patriarchy, and open hatred of homosexuality.

Championing what today we’d call the “culture wars” and “war on woke,” Republicans fully embraced the anti-science perspective of Falwell and his colleagues, questioning for the first time the theory of evolution and scoffing at concerns about pollution causing cancer, global warming, and a wide variety of diseases.

Hostility to science engendered hostility to education, to “elitists” and “pointy-headed liberals.” And we were off to the races.

When government ignores its basic, legitimate obligations–public safety, provision of  physical and social infrastructure, protection of civil liberties–and focuses instead on imposing religious doctrine, public policies are no longer based upon efforts to improve citizens’ welfare and an attendant evaluation of empirical evidence about what has and hasn’t worked.

Worse, the very definition of public welfare–of the common good– is re-focused. It no longer rests on data about the health and financial security of citizens. Instead, lawmakers are consumed with issues of “morality.” So we end up with states like Indiana in which women are forced to give birth to babies whose welfare those legislators subsequently ignore, and public schools that are underfunded because tax dollars have been siphoned off  to support religion.

Today, the GOP makes policy choices based upon White Christian Nationalist dogma (with a substantial helping of racism). The results are obvious. Blue states overall enjoy substantially better social health and safety outcomes. And because of that, they attract more businesses and more talented workers, and they send more money to Washington–money that subsidizes the Red states.

The Washington Post parsed the numbers:

Nine of the 10 states that sent the most to the federal government, per person, voted for President Biden in 2020. Nine of the 10 states that sent the least voted for former president Donald Trump. The typical resident of deep-blue Connecticut sent almost three times as much to Washington as the typical resident of deep-red Mississippi.

If those subsidies were paying for health care or better policing, that would be one thing. Paying for theocracy and poor social outcomes is considerably less defensible.


Another “Great Migration”?

It’s a truism that reasonable policymaking requires a familiarity with history, and the ability to apply the lessons of history to current issues. That’s one of the many reasons that the current Rightwing efforts to label a major part of American history as (that dreaded) “CRT”, and dispense with its study, is so misguided.

There are lessons to be learned–and legislators in several states (including Indiana) rather clearly haven’t learned them.

Even before the current efforts to eliminate America’s mistreatment of Black and Indigenous people from school textbooks, those texts glossed over the “Great Migration.” That’s a shame, because the legal and social realities that drove Black Southerners North should warn Red state legislators about the likely consequences of imposing disabilities on women.

A recent essay drew that parallel:

As soon as Black Americans had the ability and resources to leave the Deep South after the Civil War, they left…. More than six million Black Americans moved from the former Confederate states to the Civil War-era Union states between 1910 and 1970….

Jim Crow laws were America’s shameful version of apartheid, resulting in racial inequality and state-sanctioned terror.  Jim Crow laws restricted every aspect of life for Black Americans, making it nearly impossible for Blacks, or for that matter white Americans, to reach their human potential. But while whites suffered from the contagious disease of racism, they also benefited at the expense of their Black neighbors.

The same states that practiced the most pernicious forms of Jim Crow are also the states that today restrict the health care rights of women. The lesson of the Great Migration of Black Americans is that people can and arguably should vote with their feet.  Women — by the millions — must be at least contemplating leaving these states and moving to states where their rights are duly respected.

As of this week, 15 states have passed total bans on abortion since the Supreme Court’s overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision. These 15 states do not include Georgia, which recently passed a ban after six weeks, but they do include Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, South Dakota, North Dakota, Idaho and Nebraska. The female population in these states is approximately 60 million.

The essay was written by Fred McKinney, a co-founder of BJM Solutions. BJM is described as “an economic consulting firm that conducts public and private research since 1999.” McKinney is also the emeritus director of the Peoples Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Quinnipiac University.

The essay echoed an argument I’ve made on this blog and in the book I recently co-authored on women’s progress: women will choose to attend universities, take jobs and raise families in states that respect their fundamental rights.

Legislatures passing these retrograde laws have failed to appreciate their inevitably negative economic impact.  Businesses understand that women’s choices–where to attend a university, where to accept a job– aren’t abstractions. They are a reality, and  employers  are highly likely to factor that reality into their own location decisions–decisions that are already heavily influenced by the availability of a talented and skilled workforce.

It won’t just be women who exercise their choice to settle in fairer states; there are plenty of men who share women’s political and medical concerns. And as the essay points out, the people leaving backward and restrictive states will largely be those who possess the greatest drive and skills, those who can most easily relocate.

There are also those recent travel advisories issued by the NAACP, Equality Florida, and the League of Latin American Citizens–precursors of other advisories affecting tourism. The economies of a number of states, not just Florida, are heavily dependent on tourism.

These realities will depress economic conditions in Red states like Indiana–an obvious consequence that our truly terrible and unrepresentative legislators have failed to comprehend.

The last Great Migration had an enormous impact on American society. As the Smithsonian Magazine explains:

By leaving, they would change the course of their lives and those of their children. They would become Richard Wright the novelist instead of Richard Wright the sharecropper. They would become John Coltrane, jazz musician instead of tailor; Bill Russell, NBA pioneer instead of paper mill worker; Zora Neale Hurston, beloved folklorist instead of maidservant. The children of the Great Migration would reshape professions that, had their families not left, may never have been open to them, from sports and music to literature and art: Miles Davis, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, August Wilson, Jacob Lawrence, Diana Ross, Tupac Shakur, Prince, Michael Jackson, Shonda Rhimes, Venus and Serena Williams and countless others.

Women’s “great migration” is next.

Red states’ continued social and economic decline can be traced to legislatures that refuse to learn the lessons of history.