New Poll Shows GOP Voter Views on Crime Solutions

American policeman and police car in the background

While a majority of likely Republican voters in Mississippi have faith in our criminal justice system, they want to see swifter action in catching and prosecuting offenders and, relatedly, they want more police on the streets. Voters overwhelmingly favor these solutions rather than longer sentencing to address the state’s crime rate.

Empower Mississippi released these and other findings from a poll it commissioned related to public safety and the criminal justice system.

This comes as the legislature is considering bills in the final days of the legislative session that are intended to address crime by changing the length of sentences for certain crimes.

Among the key findings on sentencing:

  • 73 percent of GOP voters in the Magnolia State trust their local judges to “appropriately sentence someone for the crime they have committed.”
  • Only 12 percent believe “longer sentences for offenders” is the “solution for addressing crime.”  The top two preferred solutions, for a combined 55 percent, were “swifter action in catching and prosecuting offenders” (34 percent) and the related “more police on the streets” (21 percent).
  • When asked, “Do you think sentencing in Mississippi is too stringent or too lenient?” 62 percent say it depends on the case and the court; 8 percent say sentences are too long; 21 percent say prison terms are too short.

On Mississippi’s incarceration rate:

  • Mississippi has a growing prison population and has the highest incarceration rate in the United States. Though this fact was not mentioned by the pollsters in their questioning, they did point out that Mississippi taxpayers will spend about $400 million on the state prison system this year. When told this, 52 percent said they support reducing the current prison population, versus only 35 percent who say the state should invest in building more prisons.
  • More than half (55 percent) of GOP voters polled said “reducing the imprisonment rate should be a goal of the state,” with most saying they support that goal “only if it can be done in a way that keeps the public safe.”
  • A large majority (72 percent) of Republicans support the state’s spending money to reduce recidivism and help former prisoners re-integrate into society successfully. Only 20 percent are opposed.

Empower Mississippi Senior Advisor Forest Thigpen said, “These results show that Republican voters understand we can’t incarcerate our way out of our crime issues. Certainly there should be consequences for breaking the law, but we already have the highest imprisonment rate in the nation, so if putting all criminals behind bars for a long time was the answer, our crime rate would be negligible. There are other ways to reduce crime.”

Thigpen pointed to a recent report from Empower Mississippi titled, “Violent Crime in Mississippi: A Data-Supported Analysis and Evidence-Based Solutions,” which analyzes FBI crime data for Mississippi since 2010 and makes recommendations for solutions.

“Legislators are now considering bills that would go against the evidence-based solutions in that report, and this poll shows that Republican voters want effective solutions, not just ones that sound good,” Thigpen said.

He said Senate Bills 2099, 2100, and 2101, in their current forms, would mandate minimum sentences for certain property crimes, with no possibility of parole or probation.

“This means the legislature would be mandating a one-size-fits-all sentence instead of allowing local judges to consider the circumstances and perhaps, in some cases, issue a punishment that would be more effective and less expensive than prison,” said Thigpen. “This poll shows that Republican voters believe circumstances matter, and they trust their local judges to make those decisions.”

The poll, a “probabilistic survey” was conducted for Empower Mississippi by Cygnal, an award-winning international polling, public opinion, and predictive analytics firm. It was conducted on March 14-15, 2023, with 400 likely Republican primary election voters across Mississippi. It has a margin of error of ±4.80 percent.