June 21, 2021 21:31

Tough On Crime Wins Elections


Obama-Cool it with the “defund the police” slogan.

Gallup-The majority of those polled believe that “tough on crime” issues should guide public policy.

Marshall Project-Political groups are trying to prove their candidate is the most merciless toward violent criminals.

The Crime Report-About nine of 10 voters said the protests over police violence were a factor in their voting.

Clyburn-Cited calls to “defund the police” as a reason why Democrats lost races for Congress in the election, saying “these headlines can kill a political effort.

Politico-Shell-shocked Democratic lawmakers, strategists, and aides privately began trying to pin the blame.


Crime, cops and the judiciary were election issues this year. The results were more than disappointing for those advocating for progressive changes. Some Democrats were openly bitter that the cops and crime agenda blew up in their faces.

Obama: Cool It With The “Defund The Police” Slogan

Obama: Cool it with the “defund the police” slogan. The former president this week cautioned justice reform advocates against using the phrase to describe efforts to reduce police brutality and limit racial disparities in policing. “I guess you can use a snappy slogan like ‘Defund The Police,’” Obama told an interviewer, “but, you know, you lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done…” CNN Some Democratic lawmakers, like Rep. Ilhan Omar, immediately pushed back, The Guardian.

The Marshall Project

“The Marshall Project, a journalistic enterprise with an expansive focus on criminal justice, was inspired by moral outrage, with the explicit purpose of promoting reform. It may not call its work advocacy, but it is unavoidably ideological…”Columbia Journalism Review.

Considering that Marshall is more advocacy than journalism, what’s below is a rare example of Marshall publishing something that doesn’t fit their agenda. They acknowledge that tough on crime wins judicial races.

Many Races Had Tough-On-Crime Rhetoric Coming From Both Sides (rearranged quotes)

Across the country, being tough on crime remains the primary line for many judicial campaigns. And that political pressure extends beyond Election Day—research shows that elected judges are more likely to hand down harsher sentences and uphold the death penalty in an election year.

This year’s nationwide crop of state supreme court races looked much like they always have—expensive, dark-money-filled contests between political groups trying to prove their candidate is the most merciless toward violent criminals.

The tone of the elections stayed the same, even after a summer of mass protests about racism in the criminal justice system.

It’s hard to say whether these messages won elections, since many races had “tough-on-crime” rhetoric coming from both sides. But there’s evidence these messages trickle down into judges’ behavior on the bench. “The more frequently television ads air during an election,” a 2015 analysis showed, “the less likely state supreme court justices are, on average, to rule in favor of criminal defendants,” The Marshall Project.

Gallup-Most Support Being Tough On Crime (rearranged quotes)

Americans’ belief that the U.S. criminal justice system is “not tough enough” on crime is now half of what it was in Gallup’s initial reading of 83% in 1992. The latest measure, at 41%, is the lowest on record and down slightly from the previous reading in 2016 — although it remains the view of the plurality. At the same time, there has been a seven-percentage-point uptick among those who say the system is “too tough” (21%) and no change among those who think it is “about right” (35%).

Gallup is correct, those stating that the criminal justice system is not tough enough has fallen considerably.

But those believing that the system is not tough enough or those believing that the justice system is “about right” constitute 62 percent of those polled.

Only 21 percent of these polled believe that the justice system is too tough.

Views of the criminal justice system vary by party identification and racial background. A 58% majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say the criminal justice system is not tough enough. However, this view is shared by less than half as many Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (25%), while 37% think the system is about right and 35% too tough, Gallup

Other Factors Supporting A Tough On Crime Approach

It’s not just a political strategy. When considering the immense amount of fear of crime, growing violent crime, the strong support for law enforcement, gun sales exploding, people leaving cities and Republican gains in the House, control over the Senate, and gains at the state level, it cumulatively represents reasons why the American public is not in the mood for a progressive approach to crime.

Fear Of Crime

Americans are more likely to perceive crime in the U.S. as having increased over the prior year (78%) than they have been at any point since 1993, Gallup.


Critics insist that violent crime is down per historical trends before 2015. Detractors say that the increase in violence in 2020 is overblown. Some insist that per FBI data (the 41 percent of violent crimes reported) violence has decreased substantially.

Thus we have a fundamental question, which holds more importance, a 28 percent increase in all violent crime (including simple assaults) per the National Crime Survey (2015-2018), and the presumption that this applies to 2019 (no change in violent crime in 2019 when including simple assaults per BJS), a tripling of violent crime per Gallup, endless media reports of vastly increasing urban violence in 2020 after the lockdowns, a rise in homicides and aggravated assaults in 2019 and 2020 per the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a considerable and recent rise in homicides, aggravated assaults and robberies after the lockdowns by the University of Missouri, and considerable increases in homicides and violence by COVID and Crime…


…data from the FBI documenting that overall crime was flat (decreased 0.4 percent) for the first six months of 2020 but with increases in aggravated assaults and homicides? Per the FBI, in 2018 there was a decrease in violence of 3.3 percent. It decreased again by 0.5 percent in 2019, indicating possible growth, Crime in America.

Police And Crime Issues Swayed Voters

Per public opinion polls, cops are popular with approval ratings much higher than most institutions, including the media and Congress.

If you look at data regarding direct interactions with police and the public, the ratings of cops are high regardless of demographics.

Handgun sales are going through the roof. People are leaving cities due to COVID and crime. Police officers are leaving the profession at the insistence of family members. Police recruitment is down by 63 percent. Minneapolis may bring in officers from other jurisdictions to help the city’s police department as the city faces a wave of violent crime and an officer shortage, The Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Running on an anti-police platform seems like political suicide. It’s threatening to most voters. “Defunding” the police, however ambiguous, appears to have helped Republican candidates for the House of Representatives in New York, The New York Times.

Republican Gains

The Senate stayed in Republican hands (a special election in Georgia is coming), Republican gains were made in the House, there were Republican gains at the state level, there was a considerable Hispanic shift to Trump, Biden won with a razor-thin margin, and most of this happened at a huge funding disadvantage, Cops And Crime. Support for Joe Biden reached a new low among Black men this year, according to the NBC News poll of early and election day voters, NBC News.

This was supposed to be the year of massive Democratic gains. Democrats were predicting a complete denunciation of Trump and Republicans.

How all this plays out within Democratic circles remains to be seen, but it’s clear that crime and cops figure heavily when it comes to elections. It’s a question of progressive politics; can Democrats win with that agenda beyond safe, predictable districts?


Gallup is correct when support for “tough on crime” issues has lessened considerably.

But per the same Gallup report, the majority of those polled still believe that “tough on crime” issues should guide public policy.

Violent crime is up 28 percent since 2015 per the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the US Department of Justice. Violence is skyrocketing in 2020 in a variety of cities. Fear of crime is high. Support for law enforcement indicates that they are still one of the most trusted institutions in America.

Considering the articles summarizing the election, those wanting to run against crime and cops would do well to reconsider their position.

Per The Crime Report: House Majority Whip James Clyburn criticized calls to “defund the police” Sunday, saying that the phrase hurt Democratic congressional candidates and could potentially derail the Black Lives Matter movement, reports USA Today. Clyburn  told CNN that he’d spoken with the late Rep. John Lewis about the phrase this summer, the two concluding “that it had the possibilities of doing to the Black Lives Matter movement and current movements across the country what ‘Burn, baby, burn’ did to us back in 1960.”

Even with tens of thousands of ballots still to be counted, shell-shocked Democratic lawmakers, strategists and aides privately began trying to pin the blame: The unreliable polls. The GOP’s law-and-order message amid a summer of unrest (emphasis added), Politico.

Most of us writing about the justice system understand the politics of crime and cops. Based on polling data, we warned that attacks on policing would backfire.

There are Democrats at state and national levels who also think that denunciations of law enforcement and support for progressive reform were simply nuts and did nothing to get their candidates elected, Police And Crime Issues.

See More

See more articles on crime and justice at Crime in America.

Most Dangerous Cities/States/Countries at Most Dangerous Cities.

US Crime Rates at Nationwide Crime Rates.

National Offender Recidivism Rates at Offender Recidivism.

The Crime in America.Net RSS feed (https://crimeinamerica.net/?feed=rss2) provides subscribers with a means to stay informed about the latest news, publications, and other announcements from the site.


Contact us at leonardsipes@gmail.com.

My book based on thirty-five years of criminal justice public relations,” Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization” available at  Amazon.

 Reviews are appreciated


Author information

Leonard Sipes

Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of criminology and public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Former advisor to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Former advisor to the “McGruff-Take a Bite Out of Crime” national media campaign. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. Aspiring drummer.

Contact: leonardsipes@gmail.com.

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