Why You’re Far More Likely to Be Murdered in Fresno or Bakersfield than San Francisco or L.A.

Fox News and GOP politicians blast Democrats for rising crime rates. But a surprising new study finds that murder rates in many red states are far higher than most blue ones.

On the afternoon of December 15, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was taking questions from reporters on her legislative agenda on Capitol Hill when Chad Pergram, the congressional correspondent from Fox News, asked a pointed question that put the San Francisco Democrat on the spot. “What do you think about some of those crimes, specifically in San Francisco, smash and grabs?”

Pergram was referring to the roving bands of marauders organized in “flash mobs” sacking upscale retail shops in San Francisco and Los Angeles, then the talk of the country. After a Burberry boutique, a Bloomingdale’s, and a Louis Vuitton shop were ransacked even London Breed, the liberal Mayor of San Francisco, seemed at a loss, condemning as the rash of robberies and accompanying surge in gun violence as “the reign of criminals who are destroying our city.” 

San Francisco, the 12th congressional district which Pelosi has represented for 34 years, was the scene of brazen retail robberies caught on video at the height of the holiday shopping season – highlighting the overall rise in violent crime nationwide which Fox News was framing in its coverage as the fault of “Dem-controlled cities.” “It’s absolutely outrageous, and obviously it cannot continue,” Pelosi told the Fox reporter. “But the fact is, there is an attitude of lawlessness in our country that springs from I-don’t-know-where.”

Pelosi’s Republican counterpart in the House and fellow Californian, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was quick to point the partisan finger at his rival’s oblique response. “Speaker Pelosi should look in the mirror to see what caused the ‘attitude of lawlessness’ spreading across the country,” McCarthy sneered in a tweet posted to his account a few hours after the press briefing. “Democrat politicians defunded police, raised money for rioters, and pushed policies that are soft on crime. They own this crime wave.”

But do they? Since the pandemic broke out two years ago, the murder rate in the U.S. is up 44%. After a historically sanguinary year in 2020, cities large and small across the country broke annual homicide records again in 2021. For months Republicans and their supporters on Fox News have been playing up the bloodshed in major “Dem-run” cities like LA, San Francisco, and New York City. And while it’s true homicides are trending upward in the country’s largest and most liberal cities, and some “blue” cities like Chicago, Baltimore, and Philadelphia have seen real, persistent, alarming increases in homicides, a new study of national murder statistics recently released by a major think tank suggests that’s only half the story. 

To get a snapshot of murder rates across the country from 2019 to 2020, Third Way, a think tank of centrist Democrats whose vice chairman is the former global head of equity trading for Goldman Sachs, crunched the numbers, compiling 2019 and 2020 murder data from all 50 states and large D-run and R-run cities to illustrate the point that the rise in crime is a growing menace oblivious to party preference. 

For thirty-seven of the fifty states, they relied on annual crime reports released by state governments. The remaining thirteen states didn’t have 2019 or 2020 crime reports publicly available. For some, such as Mississippi, the authors were unable to find any reports online. For others, they might have been missing a 2020 report. In seven states, the public sources only provided murder per capita rates, so using the rates and census population data, they estimated the number of murders in that state. 

They found that as a general rule of thumb, the murder rate is higher in Red States than in Blue States. In 2020, the 25 states voting pro-Trump averaged 8.20 homicides per 100,000 residents, while in the 25 pro-Biden states the homicide rate averaged  5.78 murders per 100,000 residents. 

Another surprising takeaway: while murder rates have surged throughout the country, mid-sized cities with Republican mayors have actually fared far worse than big cities with Democratic mayors. 

“Republicans seem to do a much better job of talking about stopping crime than actually stopping crime,” said Jim Kessler, Third Way’s executive VP for policy, and an author of the report, in an interview with Axios. 

Take Bakersfield, a safe Republican district in California’s Central Valley and the birthplace of Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has represented a broad swath of the city in Congress since 2006. Bakersfield is one of the most reliably red districts in the country’s bluest state. It has voted Republican in every election in the 21st Century. In 2020, in a state in which the number of registered Democrats is nearly double that of Republicans, Trump won the city by 10 points. So it’s a bit surprising to learn that on a per capita basis, controlling for differences in population size, the homicide rate in Bakersfield in 2020 was more than double that of Speaker Pelosi’s San Francisco.

Fresno, another Republican-led city in the Golden State often overshadowed by L.A. and S.F., has a homicide rate nearly triple that of San Francisco’s and double that of L.A.’s. Devin Nunes, former chair of the House intelligence Committee, was Fresno’s representative in Congress for the previous 19 years. He stepped down in January to take a job working for Donald Trump. 

And consider Jacksonville, Florida, a city that has been governed by a Republican mayor, a Republican Governor and two Republican senators for dozens of years. Yet In 2020 it recorded 128 more murders than San Francisco did (in absolute numbers) despite the conservative Bold New City of the South having a population roughly the same size as that of the celestial-blue “City by the Bay.” Shockingly, Jacksonville’s 2020 murder rate was also three times that of New York City. 

Around the country, murder rates in many Republican-controlled states and cities were well above the national average. According to Third Way’s report “The Red State Murder Problem”: 

  • “Tulsa (19.64) and Oklahoma City (11.16) have Republican mayors in a Republican state and have murder rates that dwarf that of Los Angeles (6.74).”
  • In Kentucky, “Lexington’s Republican mayor saw record homicides in 2020 and 2021, with a murder rate (10.61) nearly twice that of New York City (5.94). 
  • “Bakersfield (11.91) and Fresno (14.09) each have Republican mayors and murder rates far higher than either San Francisco (5.6) or Los Angeles (6.74).”

Of the top six states with the highest jump in murder rate from 2019 to 2020—and eight of the top ten—were dyed-in-the-wool “red” bastions like Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee. 

The report suggests violent crime in major cities with wall-to-wall media coverage gets outsized  attention from the national media in comparison to reporting on crime in mid-sized cities in conservative parts of the country.  

Asked for comment on the network’s extensive reporting on the issue in light of this evidence, a rep for Fox News didn’t respond by press time. 

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