Police crime tape is seen near an American flag-themed sunglasses laying on the ground at the scene of the Fourth of July parade shooting in Highland Park, Illinois on July 4, 2022.
CNN  — 

With less than two weeks left before the midterm elections, momentum is clearly with Republicans in the race for both the House and Senate. And that’s in large part due to a big bet the party made that crime would be a central issue for the public this fall.

Over the first three weeks of October, GOP candidates and committees spent $64.5 million on ads focused on crime – nearly one-quarter of all the money they spent on ads over that period, according to a CNN analysis of AdImpact data. Many of those ads accused Democrats of supporting the ending of cash bail or efforts to defund the police. Sensing vulnerability, Democrats have also aired a significant amount of crime-related ads, dropping $58 million during that same period, accounting for 15% of their total ad spending.

New polling data from Gallup makes clear why Republican ads on crime have been so effective in moving voters.

Latest election news

  • Rubio and Demings to spar in only debate matchup of under-the-radar Florida Senate race
  • Arizona governor’s race spotlights contrasting styles of a Democrat who won’t debate and a Republican eager to take the stage
  • Tougher voting rules hit turnout efforts in key battleground states
  • Early voting begins in Georgia with slate of key races on the ballot
  • More on the midterms

  • More than half of Americans (56%) said there was more crime in their area compared to a year ago. That’s up a whopping 11 points from 2021 and 18 points from 2020, and is the highest mark ever measured by Gallup – in five decades of polling on the question.

    Concerns over rising local crime are particularly potent among Republicans. Roughly three in four Republicans (73%) said that crime is getting worse around them – a massive increase from the 38% who said the same in 2020.

    But it’s not just Republicans whose concerns over local crime have grown. Now a majority (51%) of independents said there was more crime in their area, an increase from 38% who said the same in 2020. And among Democrats, 42% said there was an uptick in local crime, compared to 37% in 2020.

    Americans are more worried today about being murdered, sexually assaulted and being attacked in their car or their home than they were in 2021. The biggest surge in concern? Having a child “physically harmed” while at school, with 47% worried about that particular crime, up from 34% in 2021.

    How do people’s fear about crime compare to the hard data on it?

    The FBI’s 2021 crime report found that violent crime dropped nationally by 1% from 2020. There was a 4.3% increase in homicides and a 8.9% decline in the robbery rate.

    Crime, however, is something in which perception often matters more than reality. If the local news is packed with reports of violent crime, it doesn’t really matter to people what the national statistics say. They feel threatened – and fear is a very powerful motivator for voting.

    The fear of crime is quite clearly a major motivator for the Republican base – along with concerns about inflation and the continued unpopularity of President Joe Biden. But it’s also on the minds of independent voters who typically comprise the swing votes in any national election.

    Democrats are working to defend themselves – running all over the country featuring former law enforcement officials touting their credentials on crime, and insisting that they would never defund the police.

    It may be a case, however, of too little, too late. The electorate is scared – and that seems very likely to accrue to Republicans’ political benefit on November 8.