Despite the millions spent on attack ads weaponizing issues of crime and public safety, voters in the 2022 midterm election overwhelmingly rejected fearmongering and dangerous “tough-on-crime” rhetoric. What was anticipated to be a takedown of justice reform mostly did not materialize at the ballot box.

Crime/safety is one of the few kitchen table issues that spans partisan divides. Everyone, regardless of how they vote, wants to be safe. But for too long, knee-jerk assumptions about voter preferences on criminal justice have resulted in “tough-on-crime” policies that drive mass incarceration yet fail to make communities safer. In reflecting on the election results and their impact on justice reform and our field—and based on pre-election public opinion research commissioned by Vera Action—it’s clear we need a different path forward when it comes to safety and justice. Voters want honesty and solutions, not scare tactics.

To better understand how crime and safety played out at the ballot box, Vera Action commissioned Hart Research Associates to conduct a one-of-a-kind online national exit survey from November 6–8, 2022, of 1,505 actual voters across the political spectrum. Five key takeaways emerged:

  1. The national politics on crime are changing. Voters saw through the fearmongering and dog whistles, signaling that they want solutions, not scare tactics, when it comes to safety.
  2. Issues of crime/safety are a significant concern for the Democratic base, but those concerns do not equal support for punitive criminal justice policies and more of the status quo.
  3. Even in typically blue parts of the country that have made real progress on justice reform, voters expect honest conversations about safety and solutions.
  4. A winning strategy is neither “progressive” nor “conservative” on crime—it must have a strong, affirmative vision with solutions for preventing crime and delivering safety.
  5. Public support for justice reform persists—including in typically red parts of the country.

Elected officials and candidates alike must acknowledge the right of all people to feel safe and secure where they live. They must put forward an affirmative vision to make communities safe and fair. And most importantly, they must enact concrete strategies that we know work and that the public supports, like sending trained counselors to respond to 911 crisis calls for mental health, drug use, and homelessness; reducing incarceration and excessive police contact; holding police accountable when they abuse their power; holding people accountable when they break the law; supporting people returning from jail and prison; stopping the flood of guns into communities; and increasing investment in the foundational things on which safe communities are built—jobs, good schools, housing, and health care.

This election, voters saw through the dog whistles, and signaled they want solutions, not scare tactics, when it comes to safety and justice.