A group of researchers recently examined the relation between “America First” populism and lifetime arrests. Their results, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that individuals holding Islamophobic, anti-immigration and anti-globalization views are more likely to have been arrested in their lifetime.
Populism is a political belief centered around the idea that “the people” or the general everyday public has been excluded from the political process and deprived of financial and social opportunities due to globalization and immigration. Widespread resistance to intervention in WWI, which led to insular and anti-globalization sentiments, and Donald Trump’s election campaigns, based on a platform of distrust of elites and foreigners, are two primary examples.
The study included responses from 4,720 individuals in the American National Election Studies (ANES) 2016 Time Series Study on public opinion and voting behavior. Populism was gauged through three factors: distrust of elites; feelings of exclusion from political systems; and America First populism, characterized by vilification of globalization and exclusion of immigrants, refugees and Muslims.
Their findings shed light on how political beliefs influence self-reported lifetime arrests, and the role that financial precarity and socioeconomic frustrations (e.g., failure to achieve “the American dream”) play in populist views.
In general, being a woman, higher education, higher income and age were all associated with lower odds of having been arrested. The fact that age is negatively associated with self-reported arrests is particularly interesting as, all other things being equal, a longer lifespan should increase probability of arrest, although the authors don’t explore this.
Importantly, individuals whose friends or family recently experienced job loss were 51% more likely to have been arrested during their lifetime, lending support to the authors’ hypothesis that financial precarity plays a key role in mediating populist beliefs and lifetime arrests.
Additionally, when populist views are held constant, hostility toward foreigners and anti-globalization were not linked to higher arrests. Likewise, general populism and feelings of political disempowerment were not predictors of arrest when controlling for America First populism.
The authors therefore conclude that America First populism specifically, including the perception of immigrants, refugees and Muslims as a threat, are the best predictors of lifetime arrests. This is true regardless of political affiliation (i.e., conservatives are less likely to have been arrested).
The study leaves a few important questions unanswered. The authors note in particular that they may be tapping into police behavior as much as actual crime rates (i.e., not all arrests are justified; not all criminals get punished). Additionally, the study doesn’t look into the kinds of crimes being committed: their severity and the identity of the victims, for example, which could reveal important elements of the relation between populist views and arrests.
The study, “America First populism, social volatility, and self-reported arrests”, was authored by Ron Levi, Ioana Sendroiu and John Hagan.