Crime, “Normie Voters” and the Return to Normal
What Joe Biden Could Learn from Eric Adams
It’s been widely noted that Democrats’ biggest problem is voters’ thirst for a return to normalcy which they don’t believe that Democrats have delivered. The biggest problems here are the economy and the covid pandemic neither of which have returned to normal in voters’ eyes. That is certainly what Democrats should be concentrating on most.
But there are other important aspects of American society where normality still seems far away and provide additional headwinds for Democrats as they approach the 2022 elections. One such area is rising violent crime where voters are quite dissatisfied with Democrats’ performance. According to a recent NBC poll, Republicans are favored over Democrats on the crime issue by 22 points. In a December Ipsos/ABC poll, Biden’s approval rating on crime was a dismal 36 percent with 61 percent disapproving. And just 11 percent in a January Pew poll said they were very confident that Biden can “effectively handle law enforcement and criminal justice issues”.
Joe Biden is visiting New York City and Eric Adams this Thursday. He could learn a few things from Adams. To begin with, Biden could stop paying attention to the voices within his party that urge him not to talk tough and be tough on crime. Adams knows that those voices do not represent “normie voters”, especially working class normie voters, especially black, Hispanic and other nonwhite working class normie voters. So Adams has not been afraid to put public safety front and center in his political appeals and call out affluent professionals who think nonwhite and working class communities can do with less policing. He believes that this is what his constituencies want.
He’s not wrong about that, as suggested by his very strong working class and nonwhite support in the New York City mayoral primary. These sentiments are dominant in urban areas all over the country. In heavily black Detroit, a USA Today/Suffolk University//Detroit Free Press poll found:
Amid a jump in violent crime in this and other cities nationwide, Detroit residents report being much more worried about public safety than about police misconduct…By an overwhelming 9-1, they would feel safer with more cops on the street, not fewer…
In Detroit, 1 in 5 residents (19%) cited public safety as the biggest issue facing the city, second only to education, named by 23%. On a list of eight concerns, police reform ranked last, at 4%.
The poll found a significant racial divide on the question. Black residents ranked crime at the top of their list of concerns: 24% cited public safety, and just 3% named police reform.
But white residents were a bit more concerned about police reform than public safety, 12% compared with 10%.
Or consider what happened in Minneapolis, where George Floyd’s murder took place. Here the closest thing to defunding the police actually got on the ballot (Question 2)…and was soundly defeated, especially by black working class voters.
These sentiments in pro-Democratic working class urban areas should not come as a surprise. Working class voters tend to live in areas that have more crime and are therefore unlikely to look kindly on any approach that threatens public safety. A recent Pew poll found that black and Hispanic Democrats—who are far more urban and working class--are significantly more likely than white Democrats to favor more police funding in their area.
And yet….Democrats still seem very far from former UK prime minister Tony Blair’s felicitous slogan: “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. Conservative outlets like Fox News may exaggerate but voters really do want law and order—done fairly and humanely, but law and order just the same. Democrats—with some exceptions like Adams—still seem reluctant to highlight their commitment to cracking down on crime and criminals because that is something that, well, Fox News would say.
Instead Democrats are associated with a wave of progressive public prosecutors who seem quite hesitant about keeping criminals off the street, even as a spike in violent crimes like murders and carjacking sweeps the nation. This is twinned to a climate of tolerance and non-prosecution for lesser crimes that is degrading the quality of life in many cities under Democratic control.
This has got to stop. Weakness on crime damages the Democrats’ brand and especially hurts some of their most vulnerable constituents. As London Breed, the Democratic mayor of San Francisco put it:
It’s time the reign of criminals who are destroying our city, it is time for it to come to an end. And it comes to an end when we take the steps to more aggressive with law enforcement. More aggressive with the changes in our policies and less tolerant of all the bullshit that has destroyed our city.
She also went directly after San Francisco’s progressive prosecutor, Chesa Boudin, and his ideological allies:
[T]hese ideologies have been what has failed our city, what has failed Black people in our city, and what continues to be about what beliefs are rather than how those beliefs are going to translate to an actual real difference in someone’s life and the ability to keep people safe.
Strong words. But Breed—and Adams—are onto something. Normie voters hate crime and want something done about it. They’re not particularly impressed by disembodied talk about the availability of guns that does not include enforcing the law against the criminals who actually use these guns. Nor do they respond well to assurances that progressive approaches to law enforcement that include less law enforcement will—eventually—work even as crime surges and the quality of life deteriorates.
Perhaps Adams can persuade Biden a new Democratic approach to the crime issue is necessary both as a matter of policy and politics. Ideally, Biden should say something like this, as recommended by the excellent Charlie Sykes at The Bulwark:
We must continue the fight for social justice, but it should not come at the price of public safety. In some of our biggest cities we have folks who think that we shouldn’t put criminals in jail or downplay the dangers of violent crime. They are wrong. We have to protect our families and our neighborhoods.
I guess I’m not holding my breath on this one but I do believe Democrats will eventually have to clearly articulate a “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” position if they hope to be credible on this issue. That may make some people within their party unhappy, but far better them than the normie voters who desperately want a return to normal, including on public safety.