New York governor Kathy Hochul is a case study in denial. The unelected Democrat is in trouble because she won't acknowledge the danger of rising crime. When challenger Lee Zeldin, a Republican congressman from Long Island, brought up public safety during last week's debate, Hochul scoffed. "I don't know why that's so important to you," she said. She might as well have stuck her tongue out at voters. Support for Zeldin has surged in recent days.
Hochul may yet win. New York hasn't voted for a Republican governor since 2002. Whatever the outcome—and Zeldin has a path to victory—the takeaway is clear: Crime is once again a matter of national concern.
Look at the polls. Sixty-one percent of registered voters told the Pew Research Center this month that violent crime is very important to their midterm vote. An October Gallup poll had crime in third place, after the economy and abortion. The October Fox poll showed that crime was second only to inflation in voters' minds. According to another recent Gallup survey, a record 56 percent of Americans say there is more crime in their area than there was last year.
Hochul blames this sentiment on mass delusion. "These are master manipulators," she told MSNBC on October 30. "They have this conspiracy going all across America trying to convince people in Democratic states that they're not safe." Hochul didn't say who "they" are. She meant Republicans.
The truth is that Hochul is the one who's out of touch. The reason voters are worried about crime is that crime has been rising. Sensational stories of subway murders, carjackings, kidnappings, and shoplifting are not isolated events. Murder and assaults have increased nationwide since 2019. Murder has dropped off somewhat since the beginning of this year, but the decline has been unevenly distributed and other forms of violent crime are going up. The lawlessness that spread across the country in 2020 hasn't abated.
Nor do voters believe that Democrats can restore order. An ABC News-Ipsos poll from October showed that a measly 22 percent of registered voters trust Democrats to handle crime. Thirty-seven percent trust the GOP. Republicans also had a 15-point advantage over Democrats on crime in the October Fox poll.
The trend is visible in individual campaigns. In September, Mandela Barnes was tied with Republican senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Then Johnson's campaign and Mitch McConnell's Senate Leadership Fund began running ads that attacked Barnes's positions on crime. Johnson has been in the lead since. Also in September, John Fetterman was ahead of Mehmet Oz in the race for Pennsylvania's open Senate seat. Then the crime ads went up. Oz began to gain.
The attacks work because Progressive Democrats like Barnes and Fetterman hold views on crime that are outside the mainstream. Over the past decade, the movement for criminal justice reform radicalized into advocacy for emptying prisons, or decarceration. Progressive prosecutors such as Kim Foxx in Chicago, Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, George Gascón in Los Angeles, Chesa Boudin in San Francisco, and Alvin Bragg in New York City refused to press charges for many crimes and sought light sentences for the infractions they did pursue. In 2019, New York ended cash bail for most felonies and misdemeanors. In 2020, Progressive Democrats began slashing police budgets.
Criminals maneuver easily within such permissive environments. Most cities are sanctuaries that do not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Nonprofits and local governments subsidize alcohol and drug addiction. Homeless encampments dot the landscape. The scent of highly potent legal marijuana fills the air. In Baltimore, squeegee kids harass motorists. In New York, turnstile jumping is rampant. Major retail chains have closed locations in downtown San Francisco, Philadelphia, and D.C. Antisocial behavior has flourished.
The Progressive Left rejected the lessons of the past. They repudiated the legacy of the tough-on-crime 1990s, when Democrats and Republicans alike built prisons, imposed harsh sentences on criminals, hired more police officers, used the death penalty, and adopted "broken windows" and community policing techniques. Progressives continued to pursue their false notion of social justice even as the body count went up. They ignored the voters yelling stop.
In the spring of 2020, left-wing data scientist David Shor shared research on his social media account that showed Republicans deriving electoral benefit from voter backlash against riots. He was fired from his job. In November 2020, Republicans proved Shor's point by unexpectedly picking up 14 House seats. The Left didn't bat an eye.
True, President Biden avoided the "Defund the Police" slogan. He promised to spend more money on law enforcement while cracking down on guns. His message was drowned out by the apostles of the cultural Left in politics, education, and the media, who condemn policing and sentencing as racist and the criminal justice system as irredeemable. The ineffectual Biden has little sway over the pandering governors and loopy prosecutors behind the crime surge.
The commitment to decarceration and decriminalization persists. Neither Eric Adams's election as mayor of New York nor the recall of Chesa Boudin in San Francisco has halted it. New York's bail reform may be responsible for Kathy Hochul's defeat, yet Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker wants a similar measure to take effect in the Prairie State next year.
The New York Times expresses wonderment that voters in Kenosha, Wis., blame incumbent Democratic governor Tony Evers for presiding over the riot that turned their city into a burned-out husk—the nerve! The scourge of crime may elect Oz to the U.S. Senate, yet District Attorney Krasner is focused more on potential election interference. "We have handcuffs, we have jail cells, and we have juries who will be here," he said at a press conference on extremism this week. That news might come as a surprise to anyone who's followed his career. Now that Krasner has acknowledged the existence of cuffs and jails, maybe he can use them to lock up the crooks terrorizing Philadelphia?
He won't. Krasner and company are ideologues who believe that they are insulated from the destructive consequences of their own agendas. Voters are about to teach Progressive Democrats a lesson: Crime doesn't pay.