Does Crime Prevail in Big Liberal Cities?

Do liberal policies promote crime? Crime rates appear to be highest in America’s South, a conservative stronghold.

Rising crime is a theme that often emerges in this election.  Of course, this argument runs contrary to FBI crime statistics, which show that it has been declining for decades.  This fall is depicted in the below figure, taken from Gallup:

From Lydia Saad (2011)

Still, this line is used often in this election’s political discourse.

Portraying Democratic Strongholds as Plagued by Crime

Take this CNN interview of Newt Gingrich during the Republican National Convention.  It is an excerpt from a segment form John Oliver, which is certainly worth watching in its entirety:

Note that Gingrich cites large urban areas in regions that have proportionally more non-whites and tend to lean Democrat: Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, DC.  Presumably, the underlying message is that these problems fester in there because liberal policies allow it to fester.  One might infer, by extension, that the solution is to implement conservative policies, which are taken to be the opposite of liberal policies.  Assume liberal policies promote crime, then conclude that their opposite discourages it.

Rates Are Often Higher in Smaller Metro Areas in Republican Strongholds

The problem is that most of the country’s areas that are most severely plagued are in America’s South, which is also the country’s conservative stronghold.  Moreover, crime appears to be a bigger problem in smaller metro areas, rather than the country’s biggest ones.

The interactive map below is constructed from the FBI’s UCR database. It shows the distribution of different crimes’ rates, the cities in which they are most common, and a map that describes how the incidence varies across the country’s metro areas.

Note that much of the Northeast has generally low rates, despite the region’s very large metro areas and their penchant for liberal policies.  If conservative policies  — like aggressive policing and highly punitive sentencing — were effective means to control crime, then wouldn’t conservative strongholds have lower rates?

Of course, all of this is simplistic.  A variety of factors shape these rates.  Many of high-crime areas have high poverty rates, for example.  However, if the causes of aggressive policing and sentencing do not determine crime rates, then why address the crime problem with them?