The old newsroom maxim, “if it bleeds, it leads,” still proves to be true in today’s 24-hour news cycle, but it’s no longer just cable news deploying that strategy. An analysis of the midterm election shows it’s especially true of Republican candidates who leaned heavily into advertising focused on crime while glossing over voters’ top issue of inflation and the economy. This was even more evident in federal races where little can be done about the degradation of crime and public safety in mostly Democrat-run cities.
The goal of any campaign should be to find issues where candidates have strength over their opponents and where there are enough undecided voters to win over. At the same time, just because a party is trusted on an issue doesn’t mean that’s where it should fish for votes. This hyper-focus on a lower-tier issue – crime – over the top-tier issue – inflation and the economy – costs Republicans in 2022.
The 2024 election is cycle is already in full swing, and many declared Republican candidates, especially in the GOP presidential primary field, remain focused on slamming Democrats for an inarguably dismal performance on law and order. Yet, this is to the detriment of their greatest strengths. Even Republicans playing supporting roles this campaign season are harping on crime more than their economic agenda.
In fact, of all the key issues polled in our most recent national survey, crime and public safety ranked 7th. For Republican voters, the top issue was inflation and the economy closely followed by illegal immigration with national security coming in a distant third place. If Republicans care more about the economy than crime, and Independents care more about inflation than public safety, why do Republicans – especially those running for U.S. House and Senate seats – continue to spend so much time talking about a low-tier issue?
Looking further in an analysis of the advertising spending data from 2022 provided by AdImpact, Republican campaigns also spent too much money messaging on crime. At the state level, approximately $184 million went into ads focused on crime compared to just $84 million on the economy. Federal Republican candidates spent $154 million on crime advertising compared to $190 million on the one issue that really has the juice to pull swing voters their way – you guessed it — the economy.
If these numbers stay the same or increase during the cycle, those voters will again mean the difference between winning and losing in a number of key races, not just the presidential election.
Today, not one key voter demographic breaks double digits when it comes to caring about crime and public safety more than another issue. Independents look like Republicans in that regard. They rank the economy, by nearly three-to-one, more important than illegal immigration and crime less than one-fifth the importance of tackling economic issues.
No other issue exceeded 30 points across every demographic polled. Even gun control, the Democrats’ current marquee issue, failed to exceed 30 percent among their voters because the economy is still their second most important concern.
The GOP has an opportunity to articulate ann optimistic vision to improve the economy and reduce inflation, not just pin failures on Biden and the Democrats. Telling voters things are expensive and the economy is in the tank thanks to Biden is like telling them the sky is blue – they already know it. This strategy left Republicans with a red trickle instead of a red wave in 2022. This means not just yelling about inflation, but actually providing relatable examples of its impact on voters’ daily lives and a clear contrast to what their conservative approach will look like compared to Democratic policies.
To undergird this point, Republicans are only winning 54% of voters who say inflation and the economy is their top issue, while winning 85% of voters concerned about illegal immigration, a tangential but similarly important issue to crime and public safety. Yet, Republicans continue to talk about crime and immigration more than inflation.
It makes more sense to double-down on the largest pool of voters who are more likely to trust Republicans on economic issues instead of focusing so heavily on an issue that may feel like it moves the needle with voters because it grabs headlines yet does not have as great of effect on as many persuadable voters.
The ad spending data for 2022 tells the story that Republicans still have not heeded the impact of overspending on crime messaging when they should have been telling a better story about how the economy and inflation would be much better with Republicans at the helm – and how they would do it. As far back as September of last year, voters have consistently ranked their economic concerns higher than any other issue facing the country, anywhere from 15% to 26% more important, meaning those concerns aren’t currently addressed by Democrats and, therefore, obvious for the Republicans’ taking.
Republicans would do well to pivot — deliver compelling ads and stump speeches — to reflect their vision for a better economic future under Republican control.
Brent Buchanan is President of Cygnal Polling & Analytics
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.