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Ripe Time for a Law-and-Order Candidate?

Liberals were wrong [1] when they tried to minimize or deny the fact that crime is rising. It is. But has it reached apocalyptic proportions, as Trump implied last night?

According to preliminary CDC data [2], homicide rose about 8 percent between 2014 and 2015. (These numbers are more comprehensive than the big-city police-department data Trump relied on when he said 17 percent.) It seems to have continued rising this year, though all we have are big-city numbers to go off of. Violent crime in general ticked up [3] about 1.7 percent between the first halves of 2014 and 2015.

That is important. But it’s not clear that Trump is encountering the same kind of electorate that Richard Nixon did—one aching for a major speech largely dedicated to “law and order.” It may have struck a nerve given the events of the past few weeks, but I don’t know what voters will think as they look back on it in November. It may depend on how many more horrific, high-profile events unfold between now and then.

Here are violent-crime rates based on police reports from 1960 to 2014, just before crime started rising again. Each rate is divided by the 1960 rate to show all the trends on the same scale.

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics [4]

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics

Murder is actually back to its early-1960s level. Other crimes stand around where they did in the Nixon era, but it’s important to sort through the major reasons for the difference. One, medical advances [5] stopped many from dying of stab and gunshot wounds; and two, murders are less affected by changes in reporting rates. It’s hard for police to ignore a dead body, but they never hear about a lot of other crimes, and reporting rates might be increasing.

If you look at the federal government’s victimization survey—which asks people if they’ve been the victim of a crime, regardless of whether they reported it, and defines its terms [6] a little differently—you actually see pretty flat trends in violence [7], including serious violence [8], between the survey’s beginning in 1972 and the early 1990s when crime started to fall. So while police reports suggest we have the same violent-crime rates we had in the Nixon era, the survey data suggest rates have fallen by more than half.

Further, when Nixon ran, crime rates had doubled over the preceding decade; today, they’ve been climbing for just a year or two and fell precipitously for two decades before that. Voters have good reason to be anxious about rising crime, but not so mad they can’t take it anymore.

While Americans do seem to realize [9] that crime is rising, practically none of them [10] call it the most important issue today. Trump has an uncanny ability to put his finger on the pulse of the country—or at least certain parts of the country—but I wonder if he overestimated the salience of this issue, especially as we move past the primaries and into the general-election season.


Robert VerBruggen is managing editor of The American Conservative.
Follow @RAVerBruggen [11]

8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "Ripe Time for a Law-and-Order Candidate?"

#1 Comment By ek ErliaR On July 22, 2016 @ 11:44 am

In the context of the convention, Willy Horton seems to have morphed into Hillary Clinton – “lock her up.” I live in hope that is the rising crime Trump was talking about.

#2 Comment By tz On July 22, 2016 @ 12:04 pm

Inner city or Hillary and the Banksters “Law and Order”.
Often the “Rule of Law” is misspoken of as “Law and Order”.
We all know that if we do trivial traffic violations we will get a ticket. Of if we build a pond and the EPA doesn’t like it, we will be harassed and attacked, fined, and maybe even imprisoned. All but guaranteed.
Blacks get away with many crimes. Police are above the law. CEOs (who contribute) are too. As are politicians. Middle Americans are chumps because they are often ticketed but are innocent, have to avoid violating millions of regulations they can’t possibly understand, and generally try to play by the rules, but still get fouled.
That is the background of what people feel is wrong.

#3 Comment By The Other Sands On July 22, 2016 @ 12:18 pm

Data from between 2014 and 2015 is what we call a “one year blip” or “statistical noise”. Until a trend is established it is meaningless. And a 1.7% change in wait her direction is negligible. So there are 102 violent crimes instead of 100 and people are expected to perceive that in their daily lives?

The Right wants to be terrified and so it is. The Right loves the narrative of societal decay. Can’t stop reading about it, consuming it. You all should ask yourselves why that is.

#4 Comment By collin On July 22, 2016 @ 1:51 pm

While Americans do seem to realize that crime is rising, practically none of them call it the most important issue today.

If that is true, then why do you state Trump has his pulse on “America.” Given the reaction to his speech, he might be missing the target. Who knows why crime increased in 2015? Could be a statistical blip or a short term Ferguson Effect (12 months)? Or could be something deeper going on and we will see an increase in crime. I believe it needs to be watched and monitored but it is not time to make it a top election issue.

#5 Comment By Lllurker On July 22, 2016 @ 2:35 pm

Further, when Nixon ran, crime rates had doubled over the preceding decade; today, they’ve been climbing for just a year or two and fell precipitously for two decades before that. Voters have good reason to be anxious about rising crime, but not so mad they can’t take it anymore.

The first sentence clearly nullifies the second, there is no good reason to be anxious about rising crime. One is to be anxious about the crime rate having ticked a hair above its lowest level in decades? Really? Am I reading TAC or the Onion?

#6 Comment By JLF On July 23, 2016 @ 11:51 am

Those in the Trump camp who rely upon Nixon’s 1968 “Law & Order”/Southern Strategy are missing some important differences. The riots in the streets that led many Americans in the 1960s to think the wheels were coming off the bus were largely protests against the war in Vietnam and the vestiges of the civil rights movement remaining after the war sucked so much of the energy out of civil rights. Even the race riots of 1965-1968 were characterized as frustration at the pace of civil rights.

The causes of civil unrest in the 1960s are not a concern in 2016. Even the Ferguson riots of last year and the protest demonstrations of this year have been comparatively tame. The anger at inexcusable police violence against minority communities has to this moment been largely offset in the general public mind by the shootings of black and white police officers in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and elsewhere.

Absent a major terrorist incident in late September or October, there is too little energy for Trump’s law and order statistics. After all, he has demonstrated that statistics don’t matter much if people aren’t themselves feeling the pain. And “civil unrest” isn’t really showing much pain, most interestingly in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and elsewhere.

#7 Comment By DGJ On July 23, 2016 @ 2:17 pm

The problem is Hillary is in a great position to play the Law and Order Card with gun control; which will appeal strongly to white soccer moms without offending blacks.

My guess is it will not help Trump. Particularly with popular suspicions of law enforcement so high.

#8 Comment By DGJ On July 28, 2016 @ 10:43 am

Once again, the economy is the only issue that will help Trump. Hillary already owns law and order. Trump needs to keep talking trade, trade and more trade. It’s the only issue he has.