I have heard it claimed for years, by various "conservative" commentators, that the most crime-ridden American cities are led by Democratic administrations. I finally decided to gather some data and find out for myself.
The four pairs of charts presented below summarize data gathered from sources as reliable as I could manage to find. All were online. The basis was a table of crime statistics for 80 cities with population greater than 250,000. Based on data compiled by the FBI, it is found at this Wikipedia page. The population estimates are for 2009, and the crime statistics are mostly from 2014 (a few from 2013). Not perfect, but a usable start. U.S. population rose 4% from 2009 to 2014. Thus the numbers used are likely in error by no more then a few percent.
I also gathered the basic economic factor, GDP per capita, from the OpenData Network, where you can ask a question like "What is the GDP per capita for New York metro area?". The result is a map showing US Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) with the area highlighted that you asked for. But then you can move the map around and click on each area of interest to see a summary for it. These data are also for 2014 (mostly). The highest GDP/person is for Oakland, California, just over $100,000/yr.
I used information found in Wikipedia and various city and county web sites to determine the political environment for each of the 80 cities. This was the most time consuming. On occasion, it is pretty easy to get the party affiliation for the Mayor and the City Council, or its equivalent, but usually only the Mayor's affiliation can easily be found. So I relied instead on the voting records that are conveniently compiled in the Wikipedia page for every county, to determine the county's political leaning, and the combination of the Governor, Lt. Governor (if there is one), and the congressional delegations, to determine the state's political leaning. I used 0, ½, or 1 for Republican, Moderate/Independent/Mixed, or Democratic, for each case. Then I combined these numbers into a single factor in which the Mayor had the most weight and the county had a little more weight than the state. I bucketed these into these categories that are shown in each chart's legend:
- Strong R (Red) – City, state, and county are represented by all or nearly all Republicans
- Mod. R (Magenta) – Significantly more R than D, but R not totally dominant
- Mixed (Purple) – Somewhere between 60/40 and 40/60
- Mod. D (Light Blue) – Significantly more D than R, but D not totally dominant
- Strong D (Dark Blue) – All three represented by all or nearly all Democrats
Now to the charts. First, Violent Crime in aggregate, normalized at incidents per 100,000 persons for the whole year:
You can click on this image to see it at full size (1672x519). Right away this seems to confirm the claims of the commentators I had heard. There is hardly anything but blue to be found above 1,000 violent crimes per 100,000 persons. However, the situation with the "Mixed" group is interesting. Crime is not in the lowest range, but the average range for these is the lowest of the five groups. And the situation for Democratically-controlled and -influenced cities is more nuanced. Many of the cities with the lowest crime also lean Democratic. For this category of crime, the safest city is Virginia Beach (Strong R), with 146, and the most dangerous is Detroit (Strong D), with 1,989.
The style of the Democratic politics clearly varies a lot, and this is worth looking into. Not that I am likely to do so any time soon. One thing I do happen to know: Two cities in Minnesota are right in the middle, Minneapolis with 1,012 and St. Paul with 663. A number of Strong R and Mod. R cities are also in this range. Democrats in Minnesota belong to a party called "Democrat-Farm-Labor", jokingly called "Democrat For Life". They are more conservative than "RINO" Republicans and even most of the so-called "Republican Establishment", while Minnesota Republicans are typically staunch conservatives, well to the right of the GOP Establishment.
I had thought that crime statistics might show some trend with city size, or with economy, but I see no clear trend here. Nonetheless, both parameters serve as a way of spreading out the data so that's how they'll be shown here and below.
Such nuances demand a deeper look than just one crime statistic. Knowing that homicide trends with violent crime in general, and is the crime that gets the most news play, I charted homicides:
Other than Chandler, Arizona (0.4 homicides per 100,000), the Strong R and Mod. R points all plot in the lower 2/3 of a bubble outlines by the other three categories, particularly Strong D. The upper part of the chart is dominated by blue markers. The "killingest" city in 2014 was Saint Louis (50 per 100K), not Chicago. I don't have current statistics to determine if this was still so in 2016, the year everyone is talking about. Thus, although details vary, this chart tells the same story as the prior one, that the Reds are a bit safer than the Blues, but the Purples are, by a small margin, the safest overall.
Let's look at crimes that are less violent. First, burglaries:
This is very interesting. Here, nobody "wins", at least no political party "wins". A handful of cities come off as very safe, led by, of all places, New York City, with 186 burglaries per 100,000. The place in which your home is most likely to be burgled is, by a small margin, Cleveland, with 1,788 burglaries per 100,000. But Toledo and Cincinnati are right up there with it (maybe there is something about Ohio…), and also Memphis. If there is any trend at all, it is that the Mixed category is still the safest in general, but only slightly.
Finally, let's look at auto theft. This is usually nonviolent, but I suspect carjacking was included in the statistic:
This resembles the first two charts a little bit more, in that Strong R and Mod. R cluster below Strong D and Mod. D. But, again, Mixed clusters below the average of all the others, though two such places crept above 500 thefts per 100,000: Bakersfield (621) and Dallas (524). The safest place to park your car is Virginia Beach (80) and the least safe is Oakland (1590).
These charts broadly support the contention that the most crime-ridden cities do tend to be led by Democrats, and in the few cases I looked into, the Democratic party has been entrenched there for decades. However, clearly not all Democrats are created equal! Several of the cities with overwhelming Democratic environments are among the safest cities in America.
I just had to devise one more chart. I normalized and combined the four statistics used above into one number. A dangerous generalization, to be sure, but here it is:
I know, I ought to have swapped the horizontal axis to put the R's on the right, but perhaps it is healthier for our mind to reverse such a convention once in a while. First, the five cities with the lowest Index scores:
- Virginia Beach, Virginia (0.331): P.E. = 0.25, Mod. R
- Plano, Texas (0.343): P.E. = 0.5, Mixed
- Chandler, Arizona (0.369): P.E. = 0, Strong R
- El Paso, Texas (0.465): P.E. = 0.55, Mixed
- Chula Vista, California (0.503): P.E. = 1, Strong D
And the five cities that "top the chart" with the highest Index scores:
- Detroit, Michigan (3.55): P.E. = 0.8, Strong D
- St. Louis, Missouri (3.22): P.E. = 0.8, Strong D
- Oakland, California (2.78): P.E. = 1, Strong D
- Cleveland, Ohio (2.62): P.E. = 0.8, Strong D
- Memphis, Tennessee (2.57): P.E. = 0.65, Mod. D
Is there any point in drawing further conclusions?