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Rising worries about crime among both Democrats and Republicans are starting to create a drag on President Biden’s approval rating, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll — and could signal larger challenges for the president’s party ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
The survey of 1,592 U.S. adults, which was conducted from June 22 to 24, found that a significant majority (55 percent) now describe “violent crime” as a “very big problem” in the United States — far more than the share who checked that degree of concern for the coronavirus pandemic (36 percent), race relations (39 percent), the economy (41 percent) or political correctness (39 percent).
Even more striking is the fact that the number of Americans who consider violent crime a very big problem rose 6 percentage points over the last month, and Republicans (among whom the number increased from 56 to 65 percent) weren’t the only ones contributing to that increase.
Last month, 45 percent of Democrats described violent crime as a very big problem. Now that number is 8 points higher (53 percent).
At the same time, 47 percent of Americans now disapprove of the way Biden is handling crime, up from 43 percent last month; just 36 percent approve.
Among Democrats, disapproval of Biden’s approach to crime increased by 3 points (to 17 percent). And while plenty of Democrats still approve of his handling of crime (68 percent), that number is noticeably lower than his approval among Democrats on nearly every other issue, including COVID-19 (91 percent), the economy (83 percent), foreign policy (81 percent), race (81 percent), climate change (81 percent) and immigration (70 percent).
Growing concerns about violent crime coincide with some of Biden’s weakest job-approval numbers to date. In the latest survey, the president’s approval among all Americans — which remains higher than Donald Trump’s at any point during his presidency — is nonetheless down 4 points from late April (to 50 percent), while his disapproval rating is up 6 points (to 43 percent).
For Biden, that 7-point gap between approval and disapproval is the narrowest in any Yahoo News/YouGov poll since the start of his presidency.
Studies show that violent crime has been rising in the U.S., even though it’s still occurring at a far lower rate than it was for much of the 1990s and before. A recent report by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice found that the number of homicides across 32 U.S. cities went up 24 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared with the first quarter of 2020, while aggravated assault rates were up 7 percent and gun assault rates were up 22 percent.
The overwhelming majority of Americans seem to be aware of these trends, with a full 69 percent — up from 65 percent last month — telling Yahoo News and YouGov they believe violent crime is increasing in the U.S. rather than decreasing (7 percent) or staying the same (16 percent). Again, both Republicans (up 7 points to 83 percent) and Democrats (up 4 points to 67 percent) say they believe violent crime is on the rise.
The picture is murkier on the local level. When asked what’s happening with crime "in your community,” just 35 percent of Americans (including 38 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Republicans) say it’s “increasing”; far more (45 percent) say crime is “staying the same,” a view shared by a majority of Republicans (51 percent) and a plurality of Democrats (45 percent). In a rare show of bipartisan consensus, it appears both sides agree that violent crime is rising, but that it is rising mostly elsewhere.
Republicans and Democrats continue to disagree sharply, however, about what is causing the spike in violent crime and what can be done about it. Democrats who believe violent crime is increasing cite “rising gun sales” (66 percent) and “systemic racism” (62 percent) as the top reasons for this; Republicans (69 percent) and independents (62 percent) cite “the racial justice movement” itself.
Likewise, more Democrats believe law enforcement is “too tough on most offenders” (37 percent) than believe law enforcement is either not tough enough (21 percent) or “about right” (15 percent). Nearly all Republicans say police are not tough enough (52 percent) or “about right” (29 percent).
As Biden pushes Democratic and Republican senators to craft and pass a compromise version of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — and as local leaders struggle to respond to rising rates of homicide and assault — these competing interpretations will almost certainly come into conflict as the midterm elections approach.
This week, Biden held an event at the White House to talk about preventing violent crime and gun violence, and touted the fact that money from the COVID-19 relief package that Democrats passed through Congress without any Republican support — and that he signed into law — has been used to bolster law enforcement.
“Cities experiencing an increase in gun violence were able to use the American Rescue Plan dollars to hire police officers needed for community policing and to pay their overtime,” Biden said.
Either way, the politics around crime seems to be shifting, and Biden may have to do more to stay ahead of the issue. Majorities of Americans now say they are more worried about crime in their communities (51 percent) than police brutality against minorities (37 percent); that violent crime is increasing because of “the racial justice movement” (56 percent); and that police are either not tough enough on offenders (31 percent) or about right (20 percent). Most Americans (57 percent) also say they are worried about “the breakdown of law and order in American cities.”
With additional reporting by Jon Ward.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,592 U.S. adults interviewed online from June 22 to 24, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or non-vote), and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is 2.7 percent.
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