How Leaders Exploit Crime for Political Gain

December 21st 2016

Kyle Jaeger

American author Mark Twain famously lamented the power of "lies, damned lies, and statistics." If he were to reprise the century-old saying for today's political age, he might direct his complaint more directly toward "lies, damned lies, and crime statistics."

The tendency of political figures to manipulate the crime-related fears of voters is especially clear in 2016, especially in two politicians separated by half the globe: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte.


Twitter user Nathania Chua explained how Duterte has cited misleading statistics about the national crime rate to convince constituents that the country has become "safer" since he took office earlier this year.

A report released by the Filipino national police on Monday did show a 32 percent drop in crime overall from 2015 to 2016, ABS-CBN reported. But despite claims by government officials that this decline proves the country "is now a safer place," the murder rate has increased by 51 percent. As Chua pointed out, the overall decline is mostly due to drops in property crimes such as theft, burglary, and cattle rustling.

The rise in murders accompanies Duterte's violent campaign to eradicate substance abuse by authorizing police and citizens to kill suspected drug dealers. Since Duterte took office in June, there have been more than 6,000 murders, described by human rights advocates as "extrajudicial killings," according to the Associated Press.

But the overall crime drop represents an opportunity to mask the murders and justify Duterte's drug war.

Donald Trump employed misleading crime statistics to boost his Presidential campaign.


Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump cited misleading statistics about the national crime rate and promised that his policies would help "make America safe again."

In October, he claimed that the number of murders in the country "are the highest they’ve been" in 45 years; in fact, the murder rate has declined by 50 percent since its peak in 1991, The Washington Post reported.

"They use these statistics, or statements, like a drunk uses a lamppost — more for support than illumination," Sanho Tree, a drug policy fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told ATTN:. "You see this throughout the world: These populist, authoritarian figures use these made-up quotes, and people want to believe it."

And while Trump and Duterte might have different objectives in mind while misinforming the public about crime trends, the means and results are the same. Tree said that "the problem with Trump-ism and Duterte-ism is that people want to believe easy answers" and that desire "basically sets up a situation for visceral response to incredibly complex problems."