NotsoSmartAnalysis, Part I

I have three questions for Eric Ostermeier of the “Humphrey Center”, a U of M “think tank” and public policy (*) program that publishes the “Smart Politics” blog, in re his post earlier today claiming that “Red States” have higher crime rates than “Blue” states.

Question 1: I know the Humphrey Institute is a bunch of graduate students and academics and whatnot, but do you honestly think everybody else is stupid? 

It’s a dumb question of course; being academics, of course they think the hoi-polloi are too dim to read.

But this is downright insulting…

A Smart Politics analysis of the recently released 2008 Uniform Crime Reports finds that red states across the nation have both higher violent and property crime rates than blue states, across several measures of partisanship.

So I went to the UCR Website.  And before the DOJ lets you get to the data, it posts this on a popup:

Each year when Crime in the United States is published, some entities use reported figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state, or region. Consequently, they lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents. Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction. The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing statistical data of individual reporting units from cities, metropolitan areas, states, or colleges or universities solely on the basis of their population coverage or student enrollment.

But Eric Ostermeier is on a mission from (the “progressive” version of) God; caution is for peasants. 

Back to Ostermeier:

The average violent crime rate (murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault) in 2008 for the 28 states that voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential election was 389 incidents per 100,000 residents. The average violent crime rate for the 22 states that voted for John McCain was 412 incidents per 100,000 residents – or a 5.8 percent higher incidence of violent crime.

Gotta hand it to Ostermeier; that does sound bad.   

For example, 2 of the top 3 states with the highest violent crime rates in the nation in 2008 voted for McCain: South Carolina (#1) and Tennessee (#3). (Nevada was #2).

Oof.  Yuck-o.

But wait – two of those states have something in common.  What could that be?

We’ll come back to that.

The difference was even more pronounced for property crimes (burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft). Obama states had an average property crime rate of 2,989 incidents per 100,000 residents, with McCain states averaging a rate of 3,228 – or an 8.0 percent higher incidence of property crime.

Eight of the top 11 states with the highest property crime rates voted for McCain: Arizona (#1), South Carolina (#2), Alabama (#4), Tennessee (#6), Georgia (#7), Texas (#8), Arkansas (#10), and Louisiana (#11).

It’s touching that Mr. Ostermeier is so concered about property crime – until you realize that like everyone on the left and especially the Humphrey Institute, he just wants to make sure it can be taxed before it’s stolen.

But again, let’s wait – those states all have something in common!

And we’ll touch on another theme in the next bit:

These crime rate findings hold despite the fact that blue states have a higher population of residents in urban areas, which tend to have higher crime rates than rural areas. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2000 Census of Population and Housing, Population and Housing Unit Counts, the average statewide percentage of residents living in urban areas in the Obama states was 78.0 percent, compared to a statewide average of just 64.6 percent in the McCain states.

And we’ll get back to that, too.

The red state/blue state crime data split also holds true across other measures of statewide partisan groupings.

For example, a Smart Politics analysis of partisan control of state legislatures finds the 27 states with Democratic-controlled legislatures with an average violent crime rate of 390 incidents per 100,000 residents. The average violent crime rate for the 14 states with Republican-controlled legislatures was 11.1 percent higher, at 433 incidents per 100,000 residents. (The rate was lowest among eight states with split partisan control – at 382).

There was also a double-digit percentage difference for property crime rates among the states with Democratic and Republican controlled legislatures. For Democratic-controlled states, the property crime rate was 3,044 incidents per 100,000 residents compared to 3,351 incidents per 100,000 residents for Republican-controlled states – or a 10.1 percent higher rate under GOP legislative control.

The differences in the rate of violent and property crimes between states along partisan lines by control of the governor’s office were less stark, but still pointed in the same direction. The 22 states with Republican governors had a 0.4 percent higher violent crime rate in 2008 (400 incidents per 100,000 residents) than the 28 states with Democratic governors (398) as well as a 6.0 percent higher property crime rate (3,196 for GOP states and 3,014 for Democratic states).

So here is the chicken and egg question: are states with high crime rates electing Republicans because the GOP is perceived to be tougher on crime and thus are more likely to take action to fix the state’s crime problems, or are Republican policies to combat crime proving less effective than Democratic policies and thus resulting in higher crime rates?

Let’s be accurate, here; it’s not a “chicken and egg” question so much as an “apple and axle” question.

This sort of “analysis” goes on and on and on…

One thing is for certain: 2008 is not an aberration.

Looking back to the 2004 Presidential election, the 19 states that voted for Democrat John Kerry had an average violent crime rate in 2004 of 361 incidents per 100,000 residents. The 31 states that voted for George W. Bush had an average violent crime rate that year of 419 incidents per 100,000 residents – or a 16.3 percent higher rate. Bush states also had an 18.6 percent higher rate of property crimes in 2004 (3,648 incidents per 100,000 residents) than the Kerry states (3,077).

…and ends with an ever-so-brisk cautionary note: 

There are, to be sure, many other variables to be considered other than partisanship when examining the different rates of crime between states. For example, red states tend to be less affluent than blue states. The average statewide per capita income in 2008 for the 28 states voting for Obama was 19.4 percent higher ($45,752) than in the 22 states voting for McCain ($38,333).

The per capita income difference was still present, although less pronounced, when grouping states by partisan control of the legislature and the governor’s office. States with Democratic-controlled legislatures have an 11.1 percent higher per capita income ($44,470) than states with Republican-controlled legislatures ($40,018). States with Democratic governors had a 2.5 percent higher per capita income in 2008 ($42,955) than those with Republican governors ($41,892).

Now, I’m not going to look up the specific numbers – but I’m going to go waaaay out on a limb and say that the cost of living in Democrat states is somewhere within spitting distance of 11.1 percent higher than it is in GOP states.

But fair enough.  Tomorrow, we’ll fight numbers with numbers.  And we’ll take at least one liberty that Mr. Ostermeier didn’t think was important; we’ll put the numbers into some meaningful social context.

Oh, yeah – and address Questions 2 and 3, too.

(*) Is there a term anywhere in academia that gives you the creeps more than “public policy”?  The study of the “policing” or “managing” the madding horde of peasants that is the “public policy”-monger’s burden?

Just saying – not that I’d ever want to be an uncontested dictator, but if it were to happen, I wouldn’t rule out sending “public policy” academics out to pick potatoes in eastern Washington for a few years, and then make them learn a useful trade.  Like baking potatoes. 

Mmmm.  Potatoes.

2 thoughts on “NotsoSmartAnalysis, Part I

  1. I’m looking forward to seeing your follow-up on this, Mitch. Public policy researchers — both conservative and liberal — tend to produce agenda driven ‘science’. There are some people, some fairly regular regular commenters on SITD, even, who tend to accept these reports as tough they were born down from Sinai by Moses.
    It’s interesting that they chose states that voted for McCain & states ruled by GOP legislatures as their political units. I bet a county-by-county breakdown, or a breakdown by congressional district would show very different results.
    Unless you really believe that you are more likely to be a victim of a crime in Michelle Bachman’s district than in Keith Ellison’s.

  2. Academics picking potatos? You can’t boil rocks. Well you can, but academics will starve to death! Oh wait… now I get the point!

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