The Red Herring of “Blue City Crime”

Everybody knows that “blue city crime” is a black mark on the face of America, right? Just listen to any right-wing politician (especially one who’s currently running for election) or any right-wing media mouthpiece for very long, and they’re certain to make that point.

Ron DeSantis, taking a breather from his intensive mission of throwing slime at assorted cartoon characters, even traveled to New York to make public appearances at which he let everyone know what a dangerous cesspool the Big Apple is. What he didn’t tell them is that Jacksonville, the largest city in his own state, had a violent crime rate about 20 percent higher than NYC — and at the time it had a Republican mayor. Shhh!!!

Not to be outdone, his presidential rival Nikki Haley lambasted Gotham as well, lamenting what a violent hellscape it’s become (at about the same time she hyped a bogus, white nationalism-inspired NY Post story about some of the supposed “liberal policies” that supposedly lead to such crime). She didn’t disclose that her stomping grounds of South Carolina has a murder rate twice as high as NYC — or that its large city, Columbia, also exceeds the Blue Behemoth in that department. Jim Jordan (otherwise known as Gym Jordan) also piled on, without revealing that his state of Ohio also outdoes Gotham in violent crime and crime overall, or that Cleveland is far more dangerous than New York City.

Still, when you hear something as often as you hear bluecitycrimebluecitycrimebluecitycrime, you have to start wondering if maybe there’s some truth to it. (Many people, of course, will just assume there is without question — which is the whole objective of the repetition.) Well, the answer is yes and no. Or more accurately, yes, it’s true that “blue” cities tend to have more crime than “red” ones (if one judges blue and red by the party affiliation of the mayor). But no, that isn’t a particularly significant fact.

One of the oldest and most common mistakes of logic people make is to conflate correlation with causation. The right-wingers want you to believe that crime is higher in blue cities because they are blue cities; but there is no evidence to support such a thesis. A Harvard study on the question concluded that:

Democratic mayors have no effect on crime, but do
reduce the Black share of arrests for petty crimes.

Cities often have concentrated pockets of poverty and ghettoization, breeding grounds for crime. They also tend to vote Democratic; of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., 36 currently have Democratic mayors, while only 11 have GOP mayors. That doesn’t mean that the crime exists because of the mayors.

The exact ranking of the nation’s most dangerous cities varies slightly from year to year, and even from list to list within the same year (there are different ways of assessing what is most dangerous), but there are certain municipalities that always make the grade. And they’re pretty much all in the 2023 roster of the 15 most dangerous cities according to Forbes:

Notice anything missing? At least a couple of things, actually. The Right’s two favorite urban blue whipping boys, Chicago and New York, are nowhere on the horizon. Indeed, New York is often ranked as the safest among America’s large cities (Forbes has it pegged 5th).

Another thing you might notice is that two-thirds of these cities are in red states. That’s also a very consistent pattern. And while there may not be a strong causation to this correlation either, there’s a much stronger case for it. Particularly when you consider the role of guns in crime, and the adoration of guns in red states.

When it comes to firearms policy — one of the most crucial factors affecting violent crime — red states have become increasingly heavy-handed in usurping authority from local governments. It’s not surprising, then, that many of the high-crime cities, even if the cities themselves are blue, are located in red states. Of the 75 most dangerous cities in the country, 40 are currently in red states; and at least a dozen more are in “purple” states that go red at least some of the time.

It gets even more lopsided, and more convincing, when you look at the crime rates of states themselves.

He’s referencing a report by Thirdway that has some additional eye-opening stats and observations. For example:

The murder rate in the 25 states that voted for [Former Guy] has exceeded the murder rate in the 25 states that voted for Joe Biden in every year from 2000 to 2020. Over this 21-year span, this Red State murder gap has steadily widened from a low of 9% more per capita red state murders in 2003 and 2004 to 44% more per capita red state murders in 2019, before settling back to 43% in 2020. Altogether, the per capita Red State murder rate was 23% higher than the Blue State murder rate when all 21 years were combined.

These findings are highlighted rather strikingly in a single chart.

These reports by Thirdway and others are one reason why right-wingers have tried to build such a narrative about “blue city crime”. Not only do they want to distract from red state crime; they actually want to blame the former for the latter. Red states, they claim, are only high in crime because they have blue cities in them. Sorry, but it doesn’t work. They overlooked a salient observation in Thirdway’s report:

Even when murders in the largest cities in red states are removed, overall murder rates in [red] states were 12% higher than Biden-voting states across this 21-year period and were higher in 18 of the 21 years observed.

Not only does this contradict the fiction that blue cities cause red state crime; it actually is a strong indication that just the opposite is true: the crime in some blue cities may be higher because they are located in red states. The sparsely populated — and deeply red — states of Alaska, Arkansas, Montana and South Dakota all have significantly higher crime rates than Chicago. And in general, large cities are much safer than small towns and rural areas — places where the rot of red state mentality takes root and spreads with wild abandon.

In short, red state crime is a far bigger problem that blue city crime. Therefore, you’re constantly, constantly, constantly hearing about blue city crime.


  1. Some of those blue-state/red-state rankings are well, off.

    AZ, for instance has had an R-dominated legislature for 57 years, and Biden was the first Democrat to win in AZ since Clinton in 1996. You have to go back to the ’70’s before you have more than one D governor in a row.

    So for the purposes of this study, AZ is much more red than blue. If anything this re-inforces the thesis that crime is worse in Republican dominated states. But all of this is post Southern Strategy America, with the re-alignment of the former slaveholding states.

    What this study actually points out is that the once and present Confederacy remains a brutal and violent place to live, regardless of whether it’s nominally R or D.

    • Evidently Arizona is classified as blue because the Democratic presidential candidate won in the most recent election. I think I’d call it purple, but in any case you make a good point.

      • AZ has become a ‘purple state’ in recent years, but looking back 20 years it was definitely dominated by Republicans. Pegging the crime rate trends to a single election is good campaign talk fodder, but obscures the real reasons for the actual trends for murder.

        And that is the actual real-world problem that needs solving.

        Ironically it IS well-correlated to modern Republican party policies, policies that have been entrenched into the party since the re-alignment with the Jim Crow southern Democrats since the 1960’s: policies that normalize poverty, greatly increase the availability of guns, rhetoric that emphasizes fear of ‘the other’, all the threads that have lead to the authoritarian, violent and intolerant theocratic Republican party of today to almost a cartoonish level of performative evil.

        Look at the infamous holiday photo of Senator Massie’s family, all fondling their weapons of war.

        That looks for all the world like a boastful picture of drug cartel tough guys, a third world dictator, or some terrorist group.

        Like the KKK

        This is a celebration of murder, and a warning to not get in their way. It’s not new, in many ways it’s older than this country.

  2. No doubt there are lots of real statistics concerning  crime in red and blue states, however, Republicans are doing quite well anyway, as they continue to distribute fake news and bogus claims that are designed to deceive. So  until 45’s minions  begin respecting and accepting Harvard studies, or those from “The  Third way,” they will continue to attribute real evidence from Dems or from Republicans who dare speak the truth, as being  mere schemes used by liberals (according to Republicans) to deceive them, such as the idea that Dems are part of some huge sinister left wing conspiracy to mislead voters–a completely unproved idea which 45’s minions are sticking to like glue.

    Hitler and oher fascists, knew how important it is to control what the media reports, so  Republican leaders won’t accept any piece of real information as long as 45 or his gang  of deceivers, refuses to accept real reporting and real facts. Currently Repubs have managed to create a bogus culture war in order to stamp out simple facts before they get a chance to be acknowledged or accepted.i.e Sometimes, such as after  Jan 6th, when Mitch McConnell and former AG Wiliam Bar  expressed publicly that the riots were  (directly caused by Trump and other powerful people), and that “the big Steal is bullshit!.” So the arc of justice turns just a little bit straighter for a while. However the right’s powerful disinformation and misinformation schemes have successfully disguised the truth again and again, and in a relatively short period of time.

    The GOP is telling its base what they want to hear, and Trump is managing to keep all the garbage  flowing! So when you think about  the bizarre and outrageous claims conservative have already spread about reality,  i.e. the supposed non-reality  of Newtown and the Parkland school district shootings, it is very likely that neo-nazis and white Supremacists are continuing to  enjoy the much larger platform Trump gave them. I among many, am very worried about Trump’s many ploys derived from Hitler’s, and Roger Stone’s, playbooks, which have been so easily swallowed by  tens millions of people who apparently want Trump’s Bizarro world logic to be true. Once we drink the kool aid provided by greedy leaders we often remain loyal to the lies we decided to follow, and are only convinced otherwise, after the world is turned upside down, and there is absolutely no way left to keep clinging to big lies!

  3. Good to hear that your traveling, you have left some excellent posts after being inspired by something you see in another country as reflected by its cultural values.

    • I’m currently back in the U.S. for a few months, but traveling across the country in my RV. In the fall, I’ll be heading back to Cambodia for a while. And after that, I’m not sure.

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