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Crime is the dark horse issue of this election

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The fight between Republicans and Democrats in the midterm elections has been cast as a proxy war between the issues of the economy and abortion rights.

What that binary misses is that crime has become the sneaky big issue of this election.

In new Gallup polling, the economy still ranks as the top issue, with 85% of registered voters saying it will be “extremely” or “very important” to their vote. But guess what came in second? Yes, crime – with 71% of registered voters saying it was either extremely or very important to their vote. (By comparison, 66% said the same for abortion.)

That finding comes after Gallup released a survey that showed that more than half of Americans (56%) said there was more crime in their area compared to a year ago. That was the highest mark Gallup ever measured over five decades of polling on the question.

Crime has surged so quickly as an election issue that this marks the first midterm year Gallup has asked about its importance to voters. Now 4 in 10 voters said that it is “extremely important” to how they will vote.

And the issue crosses party lines – at least to some extent. In terms of issues voters said were “extremely important,” crime was tied for second among Republicans with immigration, behind only the economy. Among independents, crime was in third behind the economy and abortion. And for Democrats, crime ranked fifth.

Campaigns being waged all over the country reflect this reality. And it’s Republicans in particular who are attempting to go on offense over the issue.

Over the first three weeks of October, Republican candidates and committees spent $64.5 million on ads focused on crime, accounting for roughly one-quarter of the party’s overall ad spending during that period, according to a CNN analysis of AdImpact data. Meanwhile, Democrats spent $58 million on ads mentioning crime over that stretch, around 15% of their total ad spending.

In a Georgia gubernatorial debate on Sunday night, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp repeatedly invoked the “defund the police” movement in his attacks against Democrat Stacey Abrams. Abrams, who has highlighted her support for law enforcement during the campaign, said that Kemp was “lying again” about her record.

The Point: If Republicans retake the House (as seems likely) or the Senate (as seems less likely), concerns over the state of the economy – inflation and gas prices in particular – will be given the lion’s share of the credit. But don’t overlook voters’ rising fears about crime as a potential issue.

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