“The answer is not to defund the police,” U.S. President Joe Biden said earlier this month in New York City, as he pushed for more funding and training for law enforcement, along with initiatives to reduce gun violence in America. Violent crime increased in the U.S. during the pandemic, at least a dozen major American cities had record homicide rates last year, and high-profile shootings have been attracting media attention across the country in recent weeks. Now the president and other leaders in his party are previewing how they’ll position themselves on crime and public safety in this year’s midterm-election campaign. Many black Democratic mayors are looking to increase police budgets and talking tougher on crime. Republicans, favored to retake at least one house of the U.S. Congress this November, are already emphasizing these issues, blaming Democratic governance for the danger and lawlessness. How is the issue of crime and violence changing the American political landscape?

Lisa L. Miller is a professor of political science at Rutgers University and studies the politics of the issue. To Miller, crime is a bigger political issue in the U.S. now than it was a year ago, but its influence on the coming elections is hard to anticipate, particularly since contemporary threats to public safety are still nowhere near what they were like during America’s high-crime years between the 1970s and the 1990s. Miller says the issue of crime presents a greater political risk for Democrats than Republicans, as Democrats are trying to address it while simultaneously pushing to reform the criminal-justice system and address endemic problems with racism in policing. At the same time, she warns, Republicans could be in danger of overemphasizing this issue and neglecting more pressing voter concerns, especially if violent crime in the United States doesn’t get meaningfully worse than it is now.

Graham Vyse: How do you see crime shaping American politics at the moment?

Lisa L. Miller: Violent crime is a serious political issue when it’s on the rise. When it goes up dramatically, people in America pay attention and care about it. This is an interesting moment, though, because unlike the big crime wave we had in this country between the late 1960s and the middle of the 1990s, we’re now seeing a rise in crime that seems a little more regional—confined somewhat to homicides, as property crimes are down. It’s hard to know what will happen over the next couple of months, but people are certainly concerned, with reason. It’s become a more salient issue than it was a year or so ago.

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