Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of three articles about results from KRQE News 13’s poll. For more on the poll results related to the New Mexico governor’s race, click here. And for more on what’s driving New Mexicans to vote, click here.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — Questions over crime are a perennial source of debate amongst New Mexico’s political candidates nearly every election cycle. And 2022 is no different, with crime as a major focus in one of the biggest contests this November: the governor’s race between Democratic incumbent Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti.

So how are voters thinking about crime in New Mexico ahead of the election? A new KRQE News 13 poll conducted by Emerson College Polling gives a look inside the minds of voters as the November 8 General Election is now just 54 days away.

Crime matters

Emerson College Polling recently posed crime-related questions to 1,000 New Mexicans to gauge the political climate. When asked if they think crime in New Mexico has increased or decreased over the last year, the majority of people polled say crime has increased. A little over 65% of the 1,000 people polled think crime has risen, while just under 30% think the level of crime has stayed the same. Only about 6% think crime has gone down.

“It was concerning to see the level of crime being reported by respondents,” says Emerson College Polling Executive Director Spencer Kimball. “That’s a big concern for obviously everybody’s safety.”

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Most people, in all political parties, think crime has increased over the last year in New Mexico. Data: KRQE-Emerson College Poll

More Republicans think crime has increased than do Democrats, the poll shows. Over 80% of Republicans say crime has gone up while 53.7% of Democrats say it’s risen. Over 65% of Independents or other voters say crime has gone up.

Many of the people polled say they’ve had their own experience with crime over the last year. About 14.5% of people surveyed say they’ve had their own car or home broken into in the past year. Over a third of the people surveyed across the state say they know someone who has had their car or home broken into in the last year. So, that means about half of the 1,000 people either know someone who’s been victimized or have been a victim themselves.

“Not only has crime touched over half of the respondents, but nearly one in six say that they’ve been a victim of either a home break-in or car break-in,” Kimball says. “And that seems to be a very high number.”

To detain or release before trial

Alongside the overall concern regarding New Mexico crime, the topic of “pretrial detention” has come up in political debates. Pretrial detention is the practice of keeping people accused of crimes behind bars before they have had their trial. In essence, it’s the debate over whether or not to release people not yet proven guilty back into the community after they’ve been charged with a crime.

It’s a complex issue, and just over 30% of New Mexicans polled say they’re not familiar with the policy. Of the people that are familiar with what pretrial detention is, about 40% think the current policy has increased crime.

The current statewide policy requires prosecutors (i.e., the people accusing a defendant of a crime) to provide proof that if the accused were let out into the public before their trial, they would be a danger to the community. In other words, judges are generally required to release defendants on bail, unless prosecutors can convince the judge to detain the defendant.

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Many voters think the current pretrial detention process has had some impact on crime. Data: KRQE-Emerson College Poll

This policy was confirmed by the New Mexico Supreme Court in 2021. But it’s drawn criticism from prosecutors and police: “If that program is so successful, go explain it to the families that have lost loved ones to the failure of that program,” Albuquerque Police Chief Medina said at a press conference earlier this year.

The data shows that older voters tend to be more dissatisfied with the current pretrial detention process. Nearly 45% of respondents aged 65 and over think the current process has increased crime. Voters living in urban areas also tend to be more dissatisfied with the current pretrial detention process than rural voters.

“That’s a concern as far as a policy standpoint,” Kimball says. The voters don’t think the policy is working.

Earlier this year, some lawmakers tried to change the pretrial detention process. Politicians from both sides of the aisle introduced a bill that would require judges to automatically detain certain accused criminals involved in violent and other specific crimes. But after scrutiny and questioning on whether or not it would actually reduce crime, the bill died.

That “rebuttable presumption” law could reemerge in the 2023 regular legislative session. A recent study about the legal proposal has reinvigorated battle lines on the effectiveness of rebuttable presumption.

Details behind the numbers

While no poll is perfect, the New Mexico poll of likely voters by Emerson College Polling is intended to provide an accurate picture of what’s happening across New Mexico. Nexstar Media Group commissioned the poll for KRQE News 13, which covers 1,000 people who are likely to vote in New Mexico this fall.

In addition, each of the likely voters who took the poll stated that they were registered to vote. Poll takers who said they were not registered to vote were eliminated from the results.

Emerson College Polling conducted the poll September 8-11, 2022. The data comes from people across the state. Emerson The results are intended to represent voter turnout, so input from voters in Albuquerque is proportional to the share of New Mexico voters who are likely to turn out in Albuquerque.

Results were collected through several methods. Emerson College Polling used phone calls, emails, text messaging, and an online panel. The poll has a plus-or-minus ratio of three percentage points, and demographic comparisons have a higher ratio due to the sample size.