"Are you safer than you were eight years ago?" Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, asked the Republican National Convention crowd on Monday night.
"NOOOOOOOOO!" they shouted back.
And McCaul, along with the other speakers during the convention’s first night, titled "Make America Safe Again," told the crowd they were right: that they were in constant danger from unauthorized immigrants, from cop-killing Black Lives Matter militants, from terrorism.
Except here’s the thing: You probably are safer than you were eight years ago.
Violent crime has been declining since the early 1990s — and it dropped every year from 2008 to 2015. The US/Mexico border is more secure than it was when Obama became president, and there are fewer unauthorized immigrants living in the US — although since immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than American citizens, that shouldn’t matter to your safety anyway. And while global terror is deadlier than it was eight years ago, the threat it poses to Americans still pales compared with other things — like gun violence, for example.
The border is more secure than it was eight years ago
A video clip played during the convention featured images of immigrants scaling the fence at the US/Mexico border. Multiple speakers said that President Obama and Hillary Clinton didn’t care about securing the border, and cared more about "illegal aliens" than they do about Americans.
That is wrong.
Under President Obama, net immigration flows from Mexico hit zero. Eight years ago, Border Patrol agents apprehended more than 700,000 unauthorized immigrants trying to enter the US; in fiscal year 2015, they apprehended about half that.
That might seem like Border Patrol agents are just doing a worse job, but apprehensions are generally a good reflection of immigrant flows — and besides, there are more Border Patrol agents than there were eight years ago.
There are fewer unauthorized immigrants in the US than there were eight years ago
It’s not just that fewer unauthorized immigrants are coming to the US. More of them are leaving than entering. In 2007, the population of unauthorized immigrants in the US hit a peak of 12.2 million; over the next seven years, it declined to about 11.3 million in 2014.
Violent crime has declined each of the past eight years
Trump himself set the tone for the first night of his convention with a tweet Sunday, calling America a "divided crime scene":
President Obama just had a news conference, but he doesn't have a clue. Our country is a divided crime scene, and it will only get worse!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 17, 2016
Unless Donald Trump secretly has rush statistics from the FBI — which is unlikely — he is wrong. Violent crime has gone down all but one year from 2008 to 2014 — and that year, it only went up by a minuscule amount. It’s part of a decline in violent crime that’s been happening since 1991.
It’s true that most Americans don’t realize crime is dropping. A substantial portion of Americans continue to believe, every year, that crime is going up. But they’re wrong. It has not.
Terror has gotten worse since 2008
In one regard, the Republicans are correct: Terrorism is deadlier than it was eight years ago (although it did decline from 2014 to 2015).
But to most Americans, terrorism is still a remote threat. Very, very few people killed by terrorism were Americans. And even fewer were killed in the United States.
When the Republican National Convention speakers talked about terrorism on Monday night, they weren’t talking about attacks in Iraq; they were saying things like Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), who said that ISIS had agents in every US state. But compared with, say, non-terroristic gun violence, terrorism is bupkis.