Why do Republican states have a murder problem?

The truth about Democrats, Republicans and crime

Why do Republican states have a murder problem?

Why are Republicans so weak when it comes to stopping crime and protecting public safety?

You are probably not accustomed to seeing the question framed this way. Normally, Republicans attack Democrats on the issue of crime. So, this fact may surprise you: Pro-Trump states with conservative leaders have higher rates of murder, violent crime, property crime and drug overdose deaths than most Democratic states.

“The GOP presents crime as a simple problem to fix,” wrote FrameLab co-author Gil Duran in The San Francisco Examiner. “Just flood the streets with police and impose draconian sentences for even low-level offenses. But there’s a major glitch in the narrative: Republican states tend to have higher rates of violent crime than Democratic states.”

“In 2020, per capita murder rates were 40% higher in states won by Donald Trump than those won by Joe Biden,” according to “The Red State Murder Problem,” a report from Third Way, a think tank. “Eight of the 10 states with the highest murder rates in 2020 voted for the Republican presidential nominee in every election this century.”

Of course, this hasn’t stopped Republican politicians from traditionally framing Democrats as lacking when it comes to dealing with crime – despite publicly-available data —reveals the opposite to be true. Across the board, Republican states tend to fare worse than Democratic ones on crime. Republican states have the nation’s highest rates of murder, violent crime, property crime and drug overdose deaths.

This is an important fact to keep in mind during an election year when Republicans will seek to use the crime issue as a political weapon against Democrats. It’s crucial to frame the issue truthfully and refuse to allow disinformation to put Democrats on the defensive. For decades, Republicans have successfully done this, forcing Democrats into a tragic competition to see who can lock up the most people through draconian criminal justice policies.

stainless steel spiral bulb wire
Photo by Hédi Benyounes on Unsplash

“Republican officeholders do a better job of blaming Democrats for lethal crime than actually reducing lethal crime,” wrote the authors of the Third Way report.

As a result, overzealous incarceration has destroyed many lives – mostly those of poor, Black and brown people. It has also failed to increase public safety, as evidenced by the persistently high crime rates in Republican states that emphasize policing and prison.

Another key fact: New Mexico, the Democratic state with the highest rates of crime, also “locks up a higher percentage of people than any democracy on earth,” according to the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative.

If prison solved crime, New Mexico would be the safest place on the planet.

So, if Republican states have the highest rates of crime, why do Republicans insist on pursuing criminal justice polices that fail to increase public safety?

For Republicans, the point of draconian laws and mass incarceration is not to necessarily solve the problem of crime. The point is to punish individuals in accordance with the conservative “strict father” moral code, which holds that people must be severely punished as retribution for wrongdoing. It doesn’t matter whether the approach is effective. It only matters whether conservatives consider the approach morally correct.

Criminal justice reform, which states like California have embraced, takes a different moral approach. It seeks evidence-based solutions to address the roots of crime and increase public safety. It imposes consequences, including prison, to those who break the law repeatedly or violently. But it also takes into account the fact that overly harsh punishments and unnecessary imprisonment for minor crimes can increase, rather than reduce, crime.

Reform embraces the moral position that increasing public safety and addressing the root causes of crime is more important than mere retribution. The reform mindset reflects empathy rather than vengeance, and it values positive results over cruel punishment. Empathy is a key component of democracy (you can’t have democracy without empathy), and a society rooted in empathy rather than cruelty will always have less crime.

That’s because empathetic societies take care of their people, reducing the economic and social factors that drive most crime. On the other hand, societies rooted in cruelty and vengeance appear to produce citizens who are more likely to engage in cruelty and vengeance against their neighbors.

So, the next time you hear someone trying to frame crime as a partisan issue, remember that Democratic states do a better job at protecting public safety than some of the staunchest Republican states. You’ll never convince most Republicans, no matter how much data you provide (remember: if the facts don’t fit the frame, the facts bounce right off).

However, you can help people with open minds – or people who have been misinformed by press coverage and political talking points – to understand the truth: Governance by empathy tends to increase empathy and care for others in society. Governance by threat of cruelty and vengeance tends to increase cruelty and vengeance — and hence crime — in a society.

George and Gil

Further reading:

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to FrameLab.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.