The researchers behind a study that Sen. Ted Cruz cited to back up his statement Monday that the “overwhelming majority of violent criminals are Democrats” are pushing back on Cruz’s assertion.
In a piece published by the Washington Post, Ivy League researchers Marc Meredith and Michael Morse use their own data to refute Cruz’s assertion, which he stood by in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday, saying that he can make a “reasonable inference,” drawing from data on the voting registration of ex-felons who re-registered to vote in three states, that most violent criminals vote Democratic.
“I don’t think you can make that inference based on the data we provided,” Meredith said in a phone interview with ABC News.
Meredith and Morse’s 2014 paper looked into whether state laws that notify ex-felons about their voting rights had any effect on those individuals’ likelihood of re-registering to vote and turning out to the polls.
They specifically researched three states that had recently passed such notification laws -- New Mexico, New York and North Carolina -- presenting data that did in fact show more ex-felons in those states who had re-registered as Democrats than Republicans. That’s the data Cruz cited when he defended his original statement.
“The state of New York, among felons that were released and registered to vote, 62 percent registered as Democrat. Nine percent as Republicans,” Cruz said. “Let's take New Mexico. There, 55 percent of the felons who were released registered as Democrats, 10 percent registered as Republicans.”
“As John Adams famously said, facts are stubborn things,” Cruz added.
But the universe of ex-felons who re-registered to vote in three states is a much smaller cohort than “the overwhelming majority of violent criminals,” as Cruz asserted Monday. Meredith said his and other studies show that only about 20 percent of ex-felons in each state are registered to vote.
“You can’t really extrapolate that violent criminals are overwhelmingly Democratic when you lack identification of the 80 percent that aren’t registered to vote,” Meredith said.
Underscoring the difficulty of inferring such a broad statistic from available numbers, Meredith and Morse displayed in the Washington Post article data they compiled from Iowa in a separate study. In that state, only about 12 percent of felons discharged from supervision from 2002 and 2012 were convicted of a violent crime.
Within that percentage, only 24.6 percent of those violent ex-felons -- 5,894 individuals -- registered to vote. The authors said the three states they researched in their other report did not have such information on crime type readily available.
And more of them registered as independents or with a minor party (43.2 percent) than as Democrats (40.1 percent), the data showed. It is true, however, that far more registered ex-felons who committed violent crimes were Democrats than Republicans -- but that’s a far cry from the point Cruz made.
Plus, the authors note, “people convicted of violent crimes aren’t more likely to identify as Democratic than non-violent offenders.”
They also said party registration statistics might have at least as much to do with ex-felons’ backgrounds as their criminal record. Given that Democratic-leaning groups like African Americans, the young and the poor are over-represented among ex-felons, it follows that their voter registration might also reflect aspects of their life other than the fact they committed a crime, the authors said.
“[Cruz] implied that being a felon makes someone more Democratic. But the data suggest that the prevalence of Democrats among ex-felons may have to do with basic demographics, not their criminal record,” they wrote in the piece.
A Cruz spokesman said of the authors' rebuttal, "we are grateful for the authors' agreement with Sen. Cruz: 'Cruz is correct that people convicted of a violent crime are more likely to identify as Democrats than as Republicans.'"
The authors did say that, but they also said that an even greater percentage of people convicted of a violent crime registered as unaffiliated or with a minor party.
While Meredith said he and his research partner were “surprised” by the amount of attention their report has received since Cruz first cited it, they hope it helps bring context to a debate about enfranchisement laws for ex-felons, which vary by state.
“We hope that one result of the attention to the study we got is increased attention about whether it is a good idea to potentially disenfranchise someone for their entire life based on a single felony conviction,” he said.