In May, Ohioans were asked to name their biggest concerns for 2016, and crime and violence were in the top 10 issues.
The initial poll of 1,001 people done in May for Ohio news outlets showed that people defined crime and violence in multiple ways, among them as a need for gun regulation or guns for protection, concern for terrorism, and some for protection from immigrants.
Also on people’s minds were the sharp increase in drug overdoses and police shootings in Cleveland, Cincinnati and across the country.
Those who cited crime first were disproportionately from the northern half of the state, earning less than $50,000 a year and with less than a college education.
“I have a firearm in my home that is loaded and it saved my house from a murder,” said a young single white male from Northwest Ohio. It “keeps immigrants from raping and killing my family.”
“I’m afraid to go anywhere without getting shot,” said a white poll respondent from Southwest Ohio, a member of the boomer generation.
“Police violence against the citizens” was the top concern of a middle-aged woman in Northeast Ohio. “Because I’m African American, it seems to me we are being targeted.”
Respondents were granted anonymity in exchange for personal thoughts and information. For the news media’s purposes, three polls asking similar questions were conducted in May, August and October by the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron and the Center for Marketing and Opinion Research in Akron.
The poll showed that economic issues were by far the most important concern of Ohioans, and immigration, terrorism, crime and health care followed.
Hillary Clinton has taken a reform position that eliminates mandatory sentencing for lesser crimes and emphasizes rehabilitation, a change in school discipline to keep children out of the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, and better training for police.
She also has expressed concern about racial profiling by police and the disproportionate number of blacks in the criminal justice system.
“We have to make sure that our police are using the best training, the best techniques, that they’re well prepared to use force only when necessary,” Clinton said in the first debate with Donald Trump. “Everyone should be respected by law and everyone should respect the law.”
Trump has defined himself as the law-and-order candidate. He made it a theme of his convention in Cleveland, promised to get tough on urban dwellers and as the months wore on, the polls showed the number of Ohioans naming crime and violence as a top issue grew slightly.
“The problem is not the presence of police, but the absence of police,” Trump said at a rally in Charlotte in late October. “... You know the murder rate in the United States — I don’t know if you know this because the press never talks about it — is the highest it’s been, think of this, in 45 years. Nobody knows that.”
He was wrong, however.
By the numbers
Trump has been bold if not often wrong on crime.
At least three times at rallies in October he said that the U.S. murder rate is at its highest point in 45 years.
Some tried to correct him.
The murder rate in the last six years has leveled off at its lowest level since the 1960s, not the highest, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Statistics report, and that’s despite a spike in 2015.
But Trump’s not alone. America’s perceptions often differ with reality, and that’s the case with crime.
On average since 2007, two-thirds of Americans polled by the Gallup Organization said that the U.S. crime rate was worse in the current year than the previous.
That was incorrect.
During those years, the rate of violent and property crimes declined each year, with the exception of 2015.
Red vs. blue
Crime rates seem to follow the candidates.
States that are certain to send their electoral votes to the Republican candidate collectively have a higher crime rate than those more likely to support Hillary Clinton, according to an analysis done for the Beacon Journal by its retired investigative reporter David Knox.
Among those with the nation’s highest violent crime rates are Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, Alabama and South Carolina — all solidly Republican.
And in the 20 years that crime rates have fallen, the rates have fallen faster in states most likely to vote Democrat.
Those include Oregon, Virginia, Washington and some very large states: New York and Illinois.
Ohio is among 14 unpredictable swing states, and the crime-to-candidate correlation tends to follow.
Ohio, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Nevada have some of the highest crime rates in the swing group and are either too close to call or likely to go to Trump Nov. 8.
Those with lower rates are leaning toward Clinton.
In 55 years of records, Ohio’s violent crime rate has never surpassed the U.S. rate. During the worst years for violent rime, 1987-97, the national rate was about 40 percent higher than Ohio’s.
Ohio continues to be better than the nation, even though Cleveland posted the largest percentage increase — 90 percent — in the murder rate among the nation’s 50 largest cities in 2015, according to a Washington Post analysis.
Columbus also made the list, up 16.5 percent — more than Chicago.
Property crime, however, is a different story.
From 1960-99, Ohioans enjoyed a lower property crime rate than the country. But since 2000 the state has been higher than the national rate, peaking at 12 percent higher in 2011 as the state continued to struggle with the aftermath of the Great Recession.
These are the positions of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton regarding crime and violence:
Position: Protect our Second Amendment Rights and get violent criminals off the streets.
Implementation Plans: Enforce the laws on the books. Empower law-abiding gun owners to defend themselves. Go after criminals and put the law back on the side of the law-abiding.
- Bring back and expand programs like Project Exile, which moves gun crimes to the federal level where there is mandatory sentencing.
- Fix our broken mental health system. Expand treatment programs, because most people with mental health problems aren’t violent, they just need help.
- Defend the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Donald Trump believes law-abiding people should be allowed to own the firearm of their choice. The government has no business dictating what types of firearms good, honest people are allowed to own.
- Fix the current National Background Check system for gun sales. Donald Trump wants to fix the system currently in place, and make it work as intended.
- National right to carry: A concealed carry permit should be valid in all 50 states.
In the presidential debates, he proposed use of “stop and frisk” policies, which the courts have determined to be unconstitutional searches.
“America’s police and law enforcement personnel are what separates civilization from total chaos, and the destruction of our country as we know it,” Trump said, calling for an end to “hostility against our police, and against all members of law enforcement,” Trump said in a speech in Virginia in July.
“We must maintain law and order at the highest level or we will cease to have a country,” Trump said in a Virginia Beach speech July 11.
“I feel that the gun-free zones — when you say that, that’s target practice for the sickos and the mentally ill. That’s [a] target. They look around for gun-free zones,” said Trump during CNBC’s Republican debate in October, 2015.
Position: To successfully reform the criminal justice system and end the epidemic of gun violence
Implementation Plans: Strengthen bonds of trust between communities and police. Bring law enforcement and communities together to develop national guidelines on the use of force by police officers, making it clear when deadly force is warranted and when it isn’t and emphasizing proven methods for de-escalating situations. Also, provide federal matching funds to make body cameras available to every police department in America.
Double funding for the U.S. Department of Justice “Collaborative Reform” program. Across the country, there are police departments deploying creative and effective strategies that we can learn from and build on. Hillary will provide assistance and training to agencies that apply these best practices.
Reforming mandatory minimum sentencing.
Hillary will reform this system in these ways:
- Cut mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses in half.
- Allow current nonviolent prisoners to seek fairer sentences.
- Eliminate the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine so that equal amounts of crack and powder cocaine carry equal sentences, and applying this change retroactively.
- Reform the “strike” system, so that nonviolent drug offenses no longer count as a “strike,” reducing the mandatory penalty for second- and third-strike offenses.
- Focus federal enforcement resources on violent crime, not simple marijuana possession. Hillary will allow states that have enacted marijuana laws to act as laboratories of democracy and reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance.
- End the privatization of prisons. Hillary believes we should move away from contracting out this core responsibility of the federal government to private corporations.
- Expand background checks to more gun sales.
- Close the gun show and internet sales loopholes — and strengthen the background check system by getting rid of the so-called “Charleston Loophole.”
- Keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, other violent criminals, and the severely mentally ill. Doing so by supporting laws that stop domestic abusers from buying and owning guns, making it a federal crime for someone to intentionally buy a gun for a person prohibited from owning one.
- Closing the loopholes that allow people suffering from severe mental illness to purchase and own guns.
“It’s a very difficult political issue. But we are smart enough, compassionate enough to balance legitimate Second Amendment rights concerns with preventive measures and control measures, so whatever motivated this murderer … we will not see more needless, senseless deaths,” Clinton said at an Iowa campaign event in 2015.
Compiled by the Jefferson Center, a non-partisan civic engagement organization in St. Paul, working with the Your Vote Ohio project.