Crime and President Biden

The ABC News / Ipsos poll finds that a strong majority of Americans disapprove of President Biden’s handling of crime, 36-61.

But does the President have much to do with crime, really? Isn’t it mostly a state and local matter? Well, it’s complicated.

Heather MacDonald, in an interview with Stuart Varney, acknowledges the local nature of law enforcement but says President Biden “absolutely deserves” his low poll numbers because he so fully signed on to the anti-police rhetoric of recent years. Is she right?

For most crimes, the detection, apprehension, prosecution, and punishment of the perpetrators are matters for state and local governments. The federal government has a role, to be sure, but it is secondary in the “big picture” of crime.

However, crime is a complex is a complex social phenomenon. It is not a simple matter of people responding to incentives in a straightforward manner. That is one of the things that makes it difficult to study. Barry Latzer notes the “contagion effect” where crime in one area may increase crime in a neighboring one as people imitate behavior. This complicates efforts to do quasi-experiments comparing adjacent jurisdictions with different policies. Different immigrant groups have different crime rates, even when they have comparable problems of poverty, discrimination, and language barriers, because they have different cultural backgrounds. Policy matters, but culture rules.

The President’s impact on crime in the United States may, at times, be more a result of his influence on the overall national tone than it is a result of specific policies he puts in place or removes. Ms. MacDonald’s criticism of Mr. Biden’s endorsement of the wholesale trashing of police officers is warranted. How much influence he has actually had on this development is debatable. He appears to be following the tried and true political advice of “find a parade and get out in front of it.” Even so, he is leading the wrong parade. He has been more a part of the problem than part of the solution. For that, the low poll numbers are indeed deserved.

Will the President flip again if he sees the crime issue threatening a seismic political shift in the midterms? I wouldn’t put anything past him. He is, after all, the senator who sponsored the 100-to-1 ratio for crack versus powder cocaine quantities in sentence enhancement, and then turned around and advocated for reduction all the way back to 1-to-1 when the political tables turned. Yet a reverse backflip would anger the hard left wing of his party, which for some reason has influence out of proportion to its numbers.

It is eleven months to the next general election. We have already seen significant indicators of a shift in the national mood. Not the least of these was BLM threatening the Mayor-elect of New York and him dishing it right back. We will see which parade Mr. Biden wants to get in front of in 2022.

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