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Black voters didn’t fall for crime fear-mongering

“FENTANYL RELATED DEATHS ARE PLAGUING THE BLACK COMMUNITY”

“DRUGS POUR OVER THE BORDER AS CRIME IS SURGING”

“DEMOCRATS ARE FIGHTING FOR CRIMINALS TO WALK FREE”

Those are a few of the bulleted talking points sent out by the Black Media Affairs division of the Republican National Committee in the weeks leading up to midterms.

As a strategic matter, it makes sense for politicos to shoot their shot with every possible voter segment in an election where victories were expected to be razor-thin. In fact, Republicans’ Black-targeted crime messaging was largely aimed at voters in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Georgia.

But in the past few years, stoking crime hysteria has been a bipartisan endeavor.

Crime, public safety and gun violence — which shouldn’t be conflated even if the terms tend to get used interchangeably — also dominated Democrat-on-Democrat races in progressive strongholds with sizable Black communities (and voting blocs), including Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Here’s the rub, though: Black voters were uninterested in the crime narratives being pushed by politicians. In reality, data show that Black voters have more nuanced perspectives about public safety that includes strong desire for criminal justice reform as well as for community safety.

Before the election, FWD.us, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for criminal justice and immigration reform, in conjunction with Democratic and Republican pollsters, published an interesting report based on polling that drilled down on Black voters’ views about criminal justice reform.

Some big takeaways from the report titled “Black Voters Want More Safety and More Justice” include:

  • Only 4 percent of respondents named crime as the top issue they believed candidates should focus on. Inflation and the economy ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the poll.
  • Eighty-one percent of Black likely voters said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported reducing incarceration or said advocating for such policies wouldn’t affect their vote.
  • Seventy-five percent of Black voters say the criminal justice system needs overhauling or serious reforms.
  • African American voters support a range of policies that reduce imprisonment and reform the criminal justice system. This includes ending the practice of keeping people in jail before their trials if they’re charged with a nonviolent offense and allowing people who haven’t been convicted to await trial at home.
Black voters actually support a range of reforms to reduce incarceration and make their communities more safe

The report’s findings seem to underscore that many of the very policies that some politicians try to use to paint reform-minded opponents as “soft on crime” are actually quite popular with Black voters, who understand that more incarceration makes communities less safe.

“What I find most interesting is how the results imply that today, unlike in the 1980s and 1990s when the politicization of violent crime led to more support for law and order tactics, Black voters have a more intractable understanding that harsher punishments aren’t productively responsive to increases in violence,” explained Rena Karefa-Johnson, the director of national programming for FWD.us.

Karefa-Johnson added: “Despite the many (extremely problematic) political narratives being peddled about Black folks’ public safety priorities, our support for reducing incarceration has sustained through both real increases in gun violence and sensationalized ‘crime wave’ reporting and campaigning.”

Ultimately, these findings were also echoed on Election Day, according to exit polling from several news outlets.

For example, despite numerous predictions that the midterms would be a referendum on crime, most voters were more worried about their pocketbooks than pickpockets.

According to national exit polling conducted by NBC News, voters overwhelmingly named inflation and abortion as their top concern. Only 12 percent of voters surveyed said crime was their top motivation.

In the Associated Press’ exit polls, the percentage of voters who said they were casting a ballot about crime was even lower, just around 8 percent.

Radley Balko, a veteran journalist who writes about criminal justice issues for his newsletter The Watch, offered an assessment similar to the findings of FWD’s report, writing on Nov. 10 that, “in the days leading up to the election, many conservatives touted polling showing that black people were more likely than white people to say crime is a concern. Democrats still took 85 to 90 percent of the black vote this week.”

He posited: “Maybe — just maybe! — some people both want to live in safer communities and think mass incarceration and aggressive policing aren’t the most effective ways to make that happen.”

R.L. Nave | rnave@reckonmedia.com

Ryan "R.L." Nave is Reckon's editor-in-chief. He has been a journalist in St. Louis, Mo; Springfield, Ill.; Seattle, Wa; Boulder, Co.; Jackson, Miss. and now calls Birmingham home.

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