Testing “Tough On Crime” Versus “Serious About Safety” Messages
Surveys show an affirmative narrative works
May 14, 2024

On behalf of Vera Action, YouGov Blue fielded three message tests in April and May comparing two messaging frames on crime: a “serious about safety” message that focuses on preventing crime, responding to crisis, and stopping violence, versus a traditional “tough on crime” message focused on policing and jails. The polling results suggest that a “serious about safety” message is most resonant with voters and helps candidates effectively get out of the typical “tough” vs “soft” on crime debate.

  • In the first message test, we tested how a candidate who delivers a “serious about safety” message tests with and without partisan labels. The poll found no difference between whether the message was delivered by a Democratic candidate or a nonpartisan candidate, with voters approving a “serious about safety” candidate by 9 points over a “tough on crime” candidate regardless of whether the messages included the candidates’ party affiliations.
  • In the second test, we compared two different Democratic messaging styles against a standard Republican message warning that Democrats want to “defund” the police. When facing a GOP attack for being a “defund” candidate or “soft on crime,” a Democratic candidate who responded with a “serious about safety” message performed significantly better than a Democratic candidate who responded with a message accusing the GOP of trying to “defund” law enforcement and side with January 6 insurrectionists.
Democrats win with a "serious about safety" message and lose with a "tough on crime" message
YouGov Blue messaging tests commissioned by Vera Action (May 2024).
  • Finally, we asked voters which party they trusted more to handle issues of crime and safety as well as which party they heard more from on these issues. While neither party is above water when it comes to voters’ trust on crime, voters hear significantly more on the issue from Republicans—by a margin of 18 percentage points.

You can read the full polling memo and analysis from Vera Action here.