2022 poll: Republicans close gap on midterm ballot by attacking Democrats on crime

Republicans are gaining ground in the closing weeks of the 2022 midterm campaign, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll — and their renewed focus on crime seems to be helping them overtake Democrats in the race for control of Congress.

The survey of 1,629 U.S. adults, which was conducted from Oct. 13 to Oct. 17, did not find that crime has become the “most important” issue for registered voters “when thinking about this year’s election.” That distinction belongs to inflation (38%), which has ranked first — by a wide margin — for months.

In contrast, just 5% of voters name crime as their most important issue ahead of Election Day. It’s tied for fifth place with health care.

Stock image of yellow law enforcement line
Getty Images

Yet beneath the surface, the new Yahoo News/YouGov poll reveals that crime is exerting a stronger pull on many voters than that number would suggest. When separately asked to rate how important each issue is, for instance, a clear majority of Americans describe crime as “very important” (59%) and nearly all (89%) say it’s at least “somewhat important.”

Only inflation — 72% very important; 92% at least somewhat important — scores higher.

At the same time, intensity of feeling about crime is rising as the election approaches, especially among Republicans and independents who lean to the right. Nearly three quarters of the former (72%) now rate crime as “very important,” up 5 points (from 67%) over the last month alone. Remarkably, crime now outranks immigration as a very important issue for Republicans.

The shift among independents, meanwhile, has been even more pronounced: a 9-point increase in the number who say crime is very important (from 51% to 60%) since early September.

This movement likely reflects — and in turn, reinforces — the GOP’s latest messaging. As the New York Times recently reported, Republicans have been “intensifying their focus on crime and public safety” in the “final phase of the midterm campaign,” hoping to “shift the debate on to political terrain that many of the party’s strategists and candidates view as favorable.”

Violent imagery and ominous warnings about Democrats who are “dangerously liberal on crime” have blanketed the airwaves in key Senate races such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio — as well as in pivotal House districts outside big cities and along the southern border.

In truth, current crime rates are confusing and even contradictory. Murders increased by nearly 30% from 2019 to 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the latest data suggests a much smaller rise (about 4%) both nationally and in big cities from 2020 to 2021 — followed by a decline of roughly the same amount so far in 2022 (at least in cities).

Nationwide FBI estimates suggest that overall violent crime may have fallen 1% in 2021, while property crime may have fallen 4%. Far from being a blue-state problem, 8 of the 10 states with the highest homicide rates have been reliably red for the past two decades. Crime rates in border cities are lower, not higher, than the national average. And even with the 2020 spike, America’s murder rate remains below its early 1990s peak.

FBI personnel
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Yet according to the new Yahoo News/YouGov poll, large majorities of Americans currently believe that crime is increasing in the U.S. (66%) and that violent crime is higher now than it was in the 1990s (60%). A similar majority (60%) say they are either very or somewhat worried about a “breakdown of law and order in American cities.”

By the same token:

● The belief that violent crime is increasing in respondents’ communities is up 10 points since July 2021 among Republicans (from 46% to 56%), and up 9 points among independents (from 36% to 45%).

● The belief that violent crime is higher in respondents’ communities now than it was in the 1990s is up 17 points since July 2021 among Republicans (from 45% to 62%), and up 12 points among independents (from 35% to 47%).

● And the belief that law enforcement is “not tough enough on most offenders” is up 11 points since July 2021 among Republicans (from 52% to 63%), and up 14 points (from 28% to 42%) among independents.

The problem for Democrats is that Americans trust Republicans more on the issue. When asked which party would do a better job handling crime, Republicans (38%) lead Democrats (30%) by 8 points — and Republicans choose their own party as better on crime (79%) more often than Democrats choose theirs (65%). Likewise, independents prefer Republicans on crime by a massive 42% to 17% margin.

As a result, crime appears to be doing for Republicans what abortion has been doing for Democrats — motivating the base and serving as a wedge issue with some swing voters.

Four NYPD cops fatally shoot a man brandishing a gun
Four NYPD cops fatally shot a man brandishing a gun during a confrontation on an upper Manhattan street early Sunday. (Theodore Parisienne/New York Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Case in point: a series of questions asking respondents how they feel — “angry,” “dissatisfied,” “satisfied” or “enthusiastic” — about several recent political developments. A full 62% of Americans say they are either angry (29%) or dissatisfied (34%) about “the way crime is being handled in big cities.” That’s a higher share than say the same about anything else, including “efforts to overturn the election” (57%) and “Joe Biden’s response to inflation” (54%). Nearly half of Republicans (47%) say they are “angry” about the issue.

In keeping with historical trends, Americans are less angry (15%) or dissatisfied (26%) with “the way crime is being handled in [their] own community.” For the most part, any perceived breakdown of law and order is happening elsewhere. But as Republicans continue to hammer on crime in the final days of the campaign, that perception will likely be enough to keep their voters riled up — and to help sway some undecideds.

When asked which candidate they would vote for in their congressional district if the election were held today, 46% of registered voters now choose the Democrat; 44% pick the Republican.

In August, Democrats were ahead on the so-called generic ballot question by 6 points (45% to 39%). As recently as late September, they were ahead by 4 points (45% to 41%).


The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,629 U.S. adults interviewed online from Oct. 13 to Oct. 17, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or non-vote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.7%.