It’s too early to proclaim a sustained trend. There are cities in which crime rates have remained level, or continued to decline. That is little consolation to residents of those areas in which crime appears to be spiking upwards, though. And even the national averages are alarming. After decades of fairly broad, steady decline, the decreases seem to have halted, and very likely gone into reverse, at least in urban America.
Explanations for the crime rise remain contested too. In California, some blame de-incarceration. In St. Louis and Baltimore, others point to the pullback of policing after spectacular police controversies. America may be suffering, with a lag, the consequences of the rise in drug use over the past decade. Some ascribe it to demographic change; as the Hispanic share of the population rises, its greater rate of reported crime—whatever its causes—may contribute to the national increase. The post-2000 gun-buying spree may also bear part of the blame.
The crime resurgence has received comparatively little attention from national media. This may reflect the concentration of elite media in New York City—which has not (yet?) seen a reversal of the positive post-1990 trend. Or it may reveal the deep commitment of many in the media to the cause of curtailing police abuse. Whatever the reason, the disconnect between reported narrative—and so many Americans’ lived experiences—is opening a political gap similar to that of the late 1960s. Back then too, crime was rising. Back then, many also condemned the fear of crime as thinly concealed racial bigotry—only to be rebuffed again and again by voters who did not agree.
In the 2016 cycle, the Democratic Party and its presidential nominee may be even more vulnerable to the crime issue than they were in the 1960s.
The Democratic strategy for 2016 is whipsawed between two great political facts. The first is the party’s deep post-Obama dependence on African American votes. The second is the deepening divide between black Americans and all other Americans on issues of criminal justice.
According to the Cook Political Report:
[In 2012] African-American voters accounted for Obama's entire margin of victory in seven states: Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Without these states' 112 electoral votes, Obama would have lost decisively.
The 2008 Obama campaign assembled a large pan-ethnic coalition of young, non-affluent, and non-white voters. But as his first term failed to deliver on the promise of rapid economic improvement, many of those 2008 voters fell away. Beginning with Andrew Jackson, every twice-elected president has seen his vote total rise at his second appearance on the ballot: Lincoln, Grant, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton. Barack Obama was the first and to date only exception. He received almost 3.6 million fewer votes in 2012 than he did in 2008. Where did these votes go? Not, mostly, to his Republican challenger. Mitt Romney won only 900,000 more votes than John McCain. Nor was there any significant exit to third- and fourth-party candidates. Rather, some 2.5 million 2008 Obama votes just ... didn’t show up in 2012.