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What’s Been Missing From This Presidential Campaign?

In earlier posts here and here, I wrote that I was going on TV to talk about an issue that’s been missing from the presidential campaign. And that issue is …


A lot of you guessed correctly; a lot of you named other issues that have also been very quiet. I think the fact that the candidates aren’t spending much time talking about crime is a wonderful thing. It means that the nationwide crime downturn has allowed people to worry about other things — especially, at the moment, the economy.

This does not mean that we should ignore: a) the crime that still exists; or b) the factors that have (and have not) contributed to the crime drop; but we probably should ignore c) the occasionally hysterical media coverage that blows a minor crime uptick out of proportion.

See this interesting article from The Hill, written in April of 2007, about why crime isn’t a feature of the current campaign:

That mid-1990s spike in worries about crime eventually turned into a trend, and the issue ruled “most important problem” lists. But then it mysteriously abated. In an April Gallup Poll, just 2 percent of Americans told interviewers that crime or violence is the most important problem “facing the country today.” Off-setting this bizarrely low salience of crime, Gallup reports separately, “A majority of Americans, 56 percent, view crime as at least a ‘very serious problem’ in the United States, up slightly from previous years.”

As for the discrepancy between the two polling questions, take note: that’s the difference between a fill-in-the-blank polling question (i.e., “Which is the most important problem …”) versus a leading polling question (“Do you view crime as a ‘very serious problem’?”). The next time you read a poll and think it may be hinky, ask yourself what question the pollsters actually asked.

It is true that Rudy Giuliani often talks about crime on the campaign trail, and his success in stopping it — but, in case you haven’t noticed, Giuliani is not a big voice at the moment in the campaign. (Fascinating aside: according to a recent Times poll cited in the article linked above, the Florida G.O.P. race is as of now a virtual deadlock between four candidates: Huckabee, Giuliani, McCain, and Romney. This will almost certainly shift as a result of interceding activity, but still, what a spectacle!)