This image released by NBC shows former President Bill Clinton introducing best picture nominee "Lincoln" during the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jan. 13, 2013, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/NBC, Paul Drinkwater)
Over the last 50 years, the nation’s murder rate has been higher when a Republican is in the White House than when a Democrat holds the presidency.
In 28 years of Republican administrations, the murder rate has averaged 7.9 per 100,000 nationally. In 22 years of Democratic administrations, it’s been 6.7. Check out this chart.
The murder rate spiked in 1980, at 10.2, when Democrat Jimmy Carter was president. But for the most part, Republicans presided during the 1970s, the 1980s and the early 1990s, when crime in America was at its worst. The year with the most murders was 1991, at the height of the Crack Wars, when 24,700 Americans were killed. The president was George H.W. Bush, a Republican.
The murder rate, which had been just under 5 per 100,000 since 1950, began rising sharply in the mid-1960s, during the presidency of Democrat Lyndon Johnson. Johnson’s successor, Republican Richard Nixon, was elected on a law and order platform, promising to end urban riots, campus protests and street crime. He didn’t. The murder rate continued to increase throughout Nixon’s presidency, from 7.3 in 1969, the year he took office, to a then-record 9.8 in 1974, the year he resigned.
The murder rate didn’t begin declining again until the 1990s. In 1993, the year Bill Clinton came into office, it was 9.5. By 2000, the last full year of his presidency, it was 5.5 -- a 42 percent decrease, the largest drop for any president.
Why the difference? It could be because Republicans portray themselves as the tough on crime party, and so voters turn to them for protection during crime waves. That was a big issue in 1968, and a big issue in 1988, when Democrat Michael Dukakis lost after it was revealed he was opposed to the death penalty and had allowed a murderer out of prison on a weekend furlough, during which he beat and raped a woman. Nonetheless, crime was off the chain during Daddy Bush’s administration. Have you seen New Jack City? It was like that all over the country. Also, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush I never did jack for cities, which is where most crime takes place.
Clinton, the greatest crime-fighting president we’ve ever had, benefited from two factors: first, the Baby Boom generation was aging out of its prime criminal years -- a demographic bubble responsible for much of the mayhem of the three previous decades. The youngest Baby Boomers turned 30 early in Clinton’s first term. Second, by the time Clinton left office, the Gross Domestic Product was growing at a rate of 4.3 percent a year. Fewer young punks plus more jobs equaled less crime.
Throughout George W. Bush’s presidency, the murder rate remained consistently at about 5.5 -- but since Barack Obama became president, it’s dropped even lower. In 2011, it was 4.7 -- the lowest it’s been in 50 years.
This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $9.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.