Wisconsin candidates talk crime, but how much do voters really care?

MADISON, Wis. — In the wake of Friday’s shootings after the Bucks game, Republican candidates quickly used the issue of crime to make their case to Wisconsin.

“People are less safe because of these woke liberal policies,” Rebecca Kleefisch, a Republican candidate for governor, said at a news conference in Milwaukee.

“Enough. We can’t just accept this,” said Tim Michels, another GOP gubernatorial candidate, of the news Monday that Milwaukee had 18 homicides in a little more than two weeks.

But their push on crime, something Republicans across the board have touted, may not be the best issue to resonate with voters — in last month’s Marquette Law School Poll, only 52% said they were either very or somewhat concerned about the issue of crime.

“It’s not as salient an issue as inflation and public education, for example,” Charles Franklin, the poll’s director, said.

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Comparatively, 92% and 87% of voters in April said they were at least somewhat concerned about inflation and public education — significantly higher than the number for crime.

There may be another benefit to pushing crime as an issue, however; it moves the discussion to issues candidates think they can win on.

“I think parties in campaigns try to manipulate issues generally, and the crime issues specifically, to their own advantage and to make the points that they want to make about this issue,” Franklin said.

“From a political point of view, the emotions that go with those horrendous crimes are a ready-made method for playing up an issue and gripping people with a visceral reaction,” he added.

If candidates raise an issue like crime, which is flashy, they might be able to gain traction to make the point that they are the best candidate to solve that issue.

Geography determines how much voters care about crime

Geography also plays a significant role in who the issue of crime resonates with. The April Marquette poll found that voters within the city of Milwaukee cared more about the issue than those that live in the suburbs — as candidates like Kleefisch and Michels are likely looking to court more of the suburban Republican base than the reliably Democratic city.

Minority voters are also more likely to be concerned about crime than white voters, according to the Marquette poll.

Despite those differences, there is not much of a red-blue divide on the issue.

“Republicans are only a little bit more concerned than are Democrats. You might expect from the rhetoric that there are sharp differences in concern, but in fact, we do not see large differences across the state,” Franklin said.