Republican-controlled states have higher murder rates than Democratic ones: study

Republican politicians routinely claim that cities run by Democrats have been experiencing crime waves caused by failed governance, but a new study shows murder rates are actually higher in states and cities controlled by Republicans.

“We’re seeing murders in our cities, all Democrat-run,” former President Donald Trump asserted at a March 26 rally in Georgia. “People are afraid to go out.”

In February, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., blamed Democrats for a 2018 law that reduced some federal prison sentences — even though it was signed by Trump after passing a GOP-controlled Congress. “It’s your party who voted in lockstep for the First Step Act that let thousands of violent felons on the street who have now committed innumerable violent crimes,” Cotton said during a speech in the Senate.

Last December, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, told Fox News viewers, “America’s most beautiful cities are indeed being ruined by liberal policies: There’s a direct line between death and decay and liberal policies.”

Former President Donald Trump at a rally at a rally on March 26 in Commerce, Georgia, in front of a sign reading
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at a rally on March 26 in Commerce, Ga. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)

But a comparison of violent crime rates in jurisdictions controlled by Democrats and Republicans tells a very different story. In fact, a new study from the center-left think tank Third Way shows that states won by Trump in the 2020 election have higher murder rates than those carried by Joe Biden. The highest murder rates, the study found, are often in conservative, rural states.

The study found that murder rates in the 25 states Trump carried in 2020 are 40% higher overall than in the states Biden won. (The report used 2020 data because 2021 data is not yet fully available.) The five states with the highest per capita murder rate — Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama and Missouri — all lean Republican and voted for Trump.

There are some examples of states Biden won in 2020 that also have high per capita murder rates, including New Mexico and Georgia, which have the seventh- and eighth-highest murder rates, respectively. And there are Trump-supporting states with low murder rates, such as Idaho and Utah. Broadly speaking, the South, and to a lesser extent the Midwest, has more murders per capita than the Northeast, interior West and West Coast, the study found.

Those findings are consistent with a pattern that has existed for decades, in which the South has had higher rates of violent crime than the nation as a whole.

Demonstrators march in Atlanta in 2021 to protest the shooting death of Daunte Wright.
Demonstrators march in Atlanta on April 14, 2021, to protest the shooting death of Daunte Wright three days earlier. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)

“We as criminologists have known this for quite some time,” Jennifer Ortiz, a professor of criminology at Indiana University Southeast, told Yahoo News. “States like Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama have historically had high crime rates.”

Criminologists say research shows higher rates of violent crime are found in areas that have low average education levels, high rates of poverty and relatively modest access to government assistance. Those conditions characterize some portions of the American South.

“They are among the poorest states in our union,” Ortiz said of the Deep South. “They have among the highest rates of child poverty. They are among the least-educated states. They are among the states with the highest levels of substance abuse. All of those factors contribute to people engaging in criminal behavior.”

“I thought that was a very good study,” Richard Rosenfeld, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and former president of the American Society of Criminology, told Yahoo News about the Third Way report. “In Republican states, states with Republican governors, crime rates tend to be higher. I’m not certain that’s related to the fact that the governor is a Republican, but it’s a fact nonetheless.”

Police and emergency personnel work on a crime scene in November 21 in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Police and emergency personnel work on a crime scene in Waukesha, Wis., in November 2021. (Jim Vondruska/Getty Images)

(While the Third Way study divided states by presidential vote in 2020, using gubernatorial party affiliation leads to similar results because most states have recently chosen the same party for governor and for president. Based on presidential vote, eight of the 10 states with the highest murder rates lean Republican, versus seven of the top 10 if one uses the governor’s party.)

Although murder rates tend to be highest in the South, the biggest increases in 2020 were found in the Great Plains and Midwest, according to Third Way. The largest jumps were in Wyoming (91.7% higher than in 2019), South Dakota (69%), Wisconsin (63.2%), Nebraska (59.1%) and Minnesota (58.1%). Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska all voted for Trump and have Republican governors. Wisconsin and Minnesota voted for Biden and are led by Democrats.

Few large cities are governed by Republicans — only 26 of the 100 largest U.S. cities have Republican mayors — making apples-to-apples comparisons difficult. But cities that do have Republican mayors do not have lower murder rates than similarly sized Democratic-led cities, the study found.

Some experts warn against the impulse to use crime data to score quick political points.

“​​Being a Republican or Democratic state or city is correlated with many other issues,” David Weisburd, a professor of criminology and executive director of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University, wrote in an email to Yahoo News. “That means that the murder rate may be due to the state being Republican, or it may be due to the fact that Republican states have many other risk factors related to crime or murder rates. Even with a very comprehensive modeling of all of these factors, it is very difficult to get a valid causal result for explaining crime rates.”

Police tape blocks a street where a person was shot in a drug-related incident in Philadelphia in 2021.
Police tape blocks a street where a person was shot in a drug-related incident in Philadelphia in 2021. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

That argument cuts both ways, however. Weisburd also thinks the claims of Trump and other Republicans who say Democrats have caused a crime wave in the cities and states they govern are unfounded. “I don’t think this argument can be supported no matter which way you go,” Weisburd said.

Murder rates in the U.S. rose dramatically in 2020 from record lows, and the increases are similar across states — regardless of partisan preference. For homicides in 2020, Third Way found a 32.2% uptick in Trump-backing states versus a 30.8% rise in those that voted for Biden. Some states with large cities, such as New York and Pennsylvania, saw larger-than-average increases: New York went up 47% and Pennsylvania is up 39%. But the largest increases were in rural, Republican-led states, including Montana (+84%) and South Dakota (+81%).

The higher national murder rate is naturally causing public concern, although violent crime does remain far below its early 1990s high point. “Using the FBI data, the violent crime rate fell 49% between 1993 and 2019,” from 757 incidents per 100,000 people to 379 per 100,000, the Pew Research Center noted last November. Between 2019 and 2020, the murder rate jumped from 6 homicides per 100,000 people to 7.8 homicides per 100,000, but that was still 22% below the rate in 1991 of 10 homicides per 100,000.

8 thoughts on “Republican-controlled states have higher murder rates than Democratic ones: study

  1. Scottie, to add this message, the number one reason for gun deaths in almost every state is suicide. Homes with guns have a higher propensity for suicide. All it takes is one impulsive act and it is over. So, these same states have issues of self-inflicted deaths as well as the accidental deaths and murders. Most gun owners know we need better governance around gun ownership, but it is a vocal minority who is active along with NRA funding who put up a roadblock to prevent change.

    And, while we are at it, per The Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan health care group, the states who did not expand Medicaid are the ones who tend rank lowest in health care outcomes. This predates the ACA, but these are states that have not been ones who had healthcare access as a priority. Guess where most of those states are?


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Keith, IMO, part of the problem is that many of the people who live in these states don’t realize they are getting the shaft. Few of them look beyond their own circumstances — mostly because they are simply too busy trying to survive. Statistics are for the educated and/or those who have time on their hands.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Nan, I agree. I have long said over half the Republican party is voting against their economic interests and have no idea they are. Being a former Republican, the GOP stands for one thing – giving more money to rich people and helping them keep it. Everything else is window dressing to garner votes and mask this mission. The fight for conservative judges, for example, has less to do with Roe v Wade and more to do with judges who will rule in favor of corporations, owners and developers when screwed over litigants sue them. People need to re-read this last sentence as it is sadly true and of great importance. Keith

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Hey Keith. Very astute of you! You see something I have only seen covered in progressive left media like TYT. You know what some call the extreme left. The ties to the Federalist Society and the groups that pushed these judges to business interests is deep. Sheldon Whitehouse gave an amazing presentation on this subject if you are interested. Surprisingly most news sites left or right want to ignore this aspect. Not in the video but I was stunned when Gorsuch wrote that a man should have died in his truck when the company he worked for told him to stay with it in the freezing cold and die rather than seek safe shelter.


      2. Nan you have a great point. One I heard a lot over the last 6 months. Many people have told me they don’t have time or energy to deal with politics or the news. The free time they get is either doing chores or needed tasks or simply vegging watching Netflix or other streaming service. That is a sad by product of the oppressed / depressed worker class that the Republican right is pushing on the US

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Hello Keith. I agree. As I have said before on my blogs I carried a gun for work reasons for a good part of my working life, I am not anti-gun. But what most people don’t know is that back around 2012 or so my mental health went really downhill as I became overwhelmed by my childhood abuse. I had dealt with it in the past and had thought I was fully in control, but it came crashing back. I started doing self harm again. Long story short my doctors asked Ron if there were guns in the house and when he answered yes, they strongly recommended he get them out of house and anywhere I could get them. My emotional state got so bad that Ron had to remove the X-ACTO, hunting, and specially knives also. But to meet me you wouldn’t have realized my emotional state. I wore long sleeve shirts and long pants to hide the cuts and scars, I was pleasant as I always am. No one I worked with realized there was a problem, a raging vortex of horrible memories, no one in our social circle knew the struggle I was having. Ron and Randy were the only ones. It was alone time that was dangerous for me yet that was what I wanted, to be away from everyone. My point before I went down that rabbit hole was that no one knew, most people had no clue I was struggling. How many homes with guns have someone in them struggling like I was? How many people know or could tell? Anyway, your point is a great one.

      As to healthcare I am stunned at how well the right wing talking points have worked to get people to vote against their own interests. Here is the Democrats saying I am going to save you money and give you healthcare, complete access to medical treatments with the drugs you are proscribed. And the people voted for the people denying them that? Ron and I are having to switch our part D drug company this fall because the one we have won’t cover the insulin my doctor wants me to have that is working for me and won’t cover a medication that Ron needs. Other developed nations have universal healthcare of one system or the other that makes sure their public can get access to and use the healthcare to keep the nation healthy. It pays for itself also. The only thing it doesn’t do is offer unrestrained profit to limited sectors of people. Every study I have read on universal healthcare in the US the conclusion is that it will cost less than the system we have now and that our systems costs are going to rise to where a small minority of the population have will have good healthcare but most of the public will have only emergency room healthcare. That is crazy isn’t it? Didn’t you mention you were involved in the healthcare insurance business? Not that I want to put people out of their jobs but does adding a middleman who needs to make a profit between a person and their needed care make sense.? I would keep health insurance for upper tier optional healthcare / specialty or experimental drug needs, let the insurance companies serve a market that can afford them. For all other care and drug needs, we have a single payer system like Medicare. Wouldn’t that be a solution that doesn’t go fully “socialized” healthcare and the for-profit system we have now that excludes a large part of the population while having increasing costs that are destroying healthcare itself?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Scottie, there are a lot of things to reply to, so I will keep it brief. The Healthcare Industrial Complex in the US is too powerful to allow a universal healthcare system. It would be cheaper than what we have as we have the most expensive healthcare system in the world, but not the best. That is why a Medicare for all is a model worth pursuing, as it is a financing mechanism, not a universal healthcare system.

        The conservative media does not want the ugly truth out in public regarding the real mission of the GOP – give more money to rich people and help them keep it. This is why with future demographics not favoring the GOP, the leaders will tolerate more autocratic governance. What the masses that support the party don’t realize is that affects their rights, too.


        Liked by 2 people

        1. Hello Keith. Thank you for your well thought out reply. I like how you can put so much in a short reply. I just hope we find a way to fix the problems you mentioned before it is far too late for the people to be able to do so. I feel time is running out and the public is losing the little control we once had over politicians, who seem to be more authoritarian and dictatorial than ever before in my life. I admit I worry that they feel the public is little more than a nuisance at this point. Scottie

          Liked by 1 person

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