New Issue Brief: Who Has the Worse Crime Problem? Red or Blue States?
Comparing crime in red and blue states demonstrates the limits of empirical social science
NEW YORK, NY — In the debate about whether “red” or “blue” America has a worse crime problem, many on the left point out red states’ higher homicide rates. Meanwhile, commentators on the right insist on looking at local crime trends since red-state crime problems are often concentrated in blue cities, and red counties have lower murder rates than blue counties. In a new Manhattan Institute issue brief, senior fellow George Borjas, who is the Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and fellow Robert VerBruggen demonstrate why this particular debate is unhelpful for mitigating crime and improving public safety.
When Borjas and VerBruggen compare states or counties that have roughly similar demographic and economic characteristics – by statistically controlling for differences in social characteristics that could affect both crime rates and partisanship, such as the age, income, and racial composition of the region – the difference in homicide rates between red and blue areas disappears. They emphasize two conclusions from this analysis. First, consumers of social science should be aware of how dramatically results can change thanks to seemingly minor tweaks to an analysis. And second, crime differences across states and counties stem largely from social factors that are not under the direct control of politicians.
More can be done to evaluate the parties' relative performance on crime. However, given the sensitivity of the conclusions to how the researcher chooses to analyze the data, Borjas and VerBruggen argue efforts are better spent studying and debating concrete policies, as opposed to figuring out which political party has the most violent constituents. America certainly has more than enough murders to go around.