Crime and civil unrest have the ability to tip elections. Usually, the impact is felt most at the local level, but Richard Nixon was able to hold off a late surge from Huberty Humphrey in 1968 to win the presidency in part because of a strong law and order message. “Let us recognize that the first civil right of every American is to be free of domestic violence,” says Nixon in one ad. Former Alabama governor George Wallace almost won the 1972 Democratic nomination with a strong law and order campaign before he was gunned down and permanently paralyzed at a campaign stop in Maryland. Former president Bill Clinton’s promise to add 100,000 cops on the street during his 1992 presidential campaign was a popular proposal.
Of course, the “silent majority” was all the rage in the late 1960s and conservative candidates are hoping for another resurgence of those types of voters for 2020.
The latest Civitas Poll reveals that crime is shaping up to be a significant issue. In the state, 65 percent believe there is more crime in North Carolina than six months ago and another 23 percent are unsure. Only 12 percent believe there is less crime in North Carolina. Since the early 1990s, crime is down from its peak in the nation but homicide is increasing dramatically in many urban areas. Violent crime has already surged by nearly 20 percent from 2018 to 2019 in Charlotte. The homicide rate has doubled in the past six years in Charlotte and is up over 11 percent since 2019. John Hood has pointed out in the Carolina Journal that homicides are up 17 percent in Winston-Salem from 2019 and they have tripled in Durham. Of course, nationally there are worse examples than North Carolina’s urban sectors. Shootings in NYC at this time number 888 compared to 488 at the same point last year.
Consumers of media can watch people being gunned down in broad daylight in American cities on popular video channels like YouTube and LiveLeak.
Another question in the poll:
How important are the issues of crime and public safety to you when considering your vote in this fall’s elections?
Very important 69%
Somewhat important 18%
Not very important 8%
Not at all important 3%
Total Important 87%
Not Important 11%
Eighty-five percent of North Carolinians have an overall favorable view of their police departments and 70 percent have a negative view of calls to defund police. At the same time, 58 percent have a favorable view of the term “Black Lives Matter” so one can at least assume there is widespread support for some police and criminal justice reforms.
The Donald Trump campaign has long been playing up the law and order angle and I expect that to continue heavily up to election day. In fact, the negative blitz against Biden from the Trump campaign probably won’t amp up until after Labor Day, when more Americans traditionally start paying greater attention to the general election. Undoubtedly, crime and civil unrest will be a significant theme of those negative attacks.
It’s unclear too if Kamala Harris’s background as a former prosecutor and state attorney general will help her with voters concerned about the rule of law and crime since she has somewhat distanced herself from her tough on crime record in favor of embracing more liberal minded criminal justice reforms.
Of course, one of the overarching questions is how the voters will intepret much of the unrest going on, even the more unruly examples? Is there greater sympathy than one might expect for the unrest or activist demands? Will voters blame the president or potentially other incumbent politicians? How much of the media narrative on this issue will dominate or influence voters?
And countering some of those scenarios above, does a “silent majority” still exist that could tip the election in what might be another suprisignly conservative direction? I wouldn’t completely discount it as a possibility, particularly with two and a half months still until the election.