In a posting on the Hubert Humphrey Institute’s “Smart Politics” blog yesterday, Eric Ostermeier took a whack at trying to analyze the 2008 Uniform Crime Report along partisan lines.
And the results he found, at least up front, were shocking:
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...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.
I ran the numbers in the UCR through a spreadsheet last night; Ostermeier’s numbers were well within the range of any niggling data entry errors on my part – a point here, a point there.
Ostermeier made a game attempt at analyzing the various partisan divides several different ways…:
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.
Ostermeier broke out his numbers across a number of different scenarios; by the party in control in the state legislatures, by the party with the governor in office, and by the vote in the much-closer, arguably more long-term representative 2004 Bush/Kerry contest.
Indeed – Eric Ostermeier broke out the numbers every which way except the way that’d give the numbers any meaningful, apples-vs.-apples context.
I thought of two divides in the numbers that Ostermeier didn’t do that are much more meaningful.
Ostermeier took a brief nod at one of them, anyway.
When you look at the problems facing urban America, there has for a hundred years been one brutal conundrum; the African-American population. Victims of centuries of racism, first as slaves and then under Jim Crow, the African-American population has never had a reason to worry excessively hard about achievement or working within the system to get ahead; until very recently, it was impossible. While the legal and most of the external social impediments were removed a generation ago, it’s harder than that to reverse centuries of social conditioning; Norwegians will stay stoic, Italians will be demonstrative, and Afro-Americans have a huge, heavy social albatross on their collective backs. This - social conditioning of an entire socio-ethnic group – is generally accepted as a reason for many of the ills facing black America.
What gets overlooked is that for a fair part of southern White society, the real life effects of antebellum Southern life weren’t all that much better in the long run.
Southern society up until the Civil War was an anomaly by American standards; much of the antebellum South was in fact run by a hereditary aristocracy, not a whole lot different than Europe. At the top were the plantation owners, with immesnse wealth and power and noblesse oblige to match. At the bottom, of course, were the slaves.
And just above them were the legions of white sharecroppers - “peasants” in all but name. If the slave was the fuel of the southern economy, the white peasants were the cogs and sprockets and levers in the machine. And like peasants the world over from Japan to Russia to England, “their place” in society was a matter of social conditioning less brutal and immoral than that of the slaves, but which still left ones’ options very, very constrained.
On top of that, most southern “peasants” were of Scots-Irish descient; the Scots Irish were near descendents of the clansmen expelled from Scotland after their various rebellions. They brought with them many of the worst aspects of Scots and Irish life; the clannishness (the Hatfields and the McCoys were not an American aberration), and the emphasis on personal rather than legal justice which led to the southern tradions of duelling, honor-killing and all manner of other violence. The tradition also bred the martial culture, honor and tradition that allowed the Southern Army, outnumbered and out-equipped, to beat back the North for many long years during the Civil War, and today sees southerners of Scots-Irish descent represented in four times their demographic proportion in the military (and even more than that in the officer corps and in elite units like US Special Forces); a Texan is nine times as likely to serve in the military as a Bostonian.
And so there’s a big part of this nation that has two interwoven traditions of cultural hopelessness on the one hand, and violence on the other. And they come together in America’s traditional Deep South, the former Confederate states.
Ostermeier hints at the pathology, without really taking it into consideration:
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)…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).
The fact is, this cultural propensity to hopelessness and violence is not a partisan trait; it predates the Old South’s Republican and it’s Democratic voting traditions, and indeed predates the United States of America.
But does it skew the crime numbers as compared via current partisan trends?
As Ostermeier notes, states that voted for John McCain have about a 4% higher level of violent crime than the national average, and 8% higher than states that voted for Obama.
However – if you leave the states of the old Confederacy out of the numbers, things change pretty drastically. Non-”Confederate” states that voted for McCain had a violent crime average almost 15% below the national average (337 vs 396 per 100,000) – and that’s leaving Virginia, which voted for Obama, in the mix (Virginia’s violent crime rates, at 256/100,000, seem to have grown beyond the Scots-Irish tradition, and are well below the national average).
How drastic is the Confederate State effect on the statistics? Violent crime averages in the former Confederate states (less Virginia) averaged 31% higher than national averages, 37% higher than the Obama states, and 55% higher than in the McCain states without the old South.
The same ratios hold basically true throughout the other comparisons – except when counting state governors. Violent crime rates in GOP-governed non-Confederate states came in 19 points below states with Democratic Governors in terms of violent crime per 100,000 (332/1000), and 16 points below the national average.
In terms of property crime rates? While Ostermeier was right about overall statistics, when you leave out the Old South, McCain’s states come in seven points below the national average (2861 to 3089/100,000), and four points below the Obama states (2982/100,000); property crime per 100,000 in the former Confederacy is 22% above the national average (3878 to 3089/100,000), and 32% higher than McCain’s non-Confederate states.
“Er, Berg?” you might ask, “who cares about the old Confederacy?”
Well, generations of sociologists and criminologists, for starters. You can clamp your fingers over your ears and stomp and scream and try to drown it out, but the fact remains that the social roots of violence and crime in the Old South are different than they are in any other part of the country – and the crime numbers still show it. Violent crime stats in places like Louisiana, South Carolina and Florida are off the clock compared to most of the country – and, as I noted above, it’s a factor that long predates any current political dynamics.
And presenting crime stats that don’t adjust for this social dynamic – an external dynamic that dramatically skews the results – is utterly dishonest on its face.
So what about a social dynamic that is linked to modern partisan politics?
We’ll hit that one tomorrow.