Heading into the May 18 Democratic primary that will likely decide Philadelphia’s municipal elections, George Soros-backed District Attorney Larry Krasner is facing voters who are deeply concerned about soaring crime and homicide rates, a new poll finds.
The poll of likely Democratic voters in the overwhelmingly Democratic city found nearly half — 48% — named public safety and the homicide rate as an unprompted answer to Philadelphia’s most pressing concern.
“That’s a really big deal,” said Jim Lee of Susquehanna Polling and Research, which conducted the survey. “We’re talking about a race for DA, and one-in-two voters say crime is the biggest problem in an unprompted answer? Obviously, they’re not happy with the incumbent.”
The share of voters citing crime as their top concern also jumped 22 percentage points since the question was asked in December, according to the poll, which was commissioned by the anti-Krasner group Protect Our Police PAC.
The poll also found Mr. Krasner’s support to be lukewarm among Philadelphia’s Black voters who account for a disproportionately high number of victims of violent crime. A 52% majority of residents in Black neighborhoods listed crime as the community’s biggest problem.
“Consequently, it is these hard-hit areas of Philadelphia where support for Vega’s message of looking out for crime victims is strongest,” Mr. Lee said, referring to candidate Carlos Vega.
Roughly 20% of Philadelphia voters remain undecided, the poll found, leaving the race too close to call.
Mr. Krasner, 59, came to office as one of the so-called “Soros DAs,” top prosecutors whose campaigns were loaded up with cash from PACs funded by the billionaire liberal activist. Vowing to rectify what they label a systemically racist criminal justice system, they oppose capital punishment, cash bail, and prosecuting some crimes at all.
Running with no prior prosecutorial experience in 2017, Mr. Krasner received more than $1.7 million — a record sum for a district attorney’s race in Philadelphia — from one of the myriad “Safety and Justice” PACs funded by Mr. Soros to elect prosecutors with a far-left agenda.
Their efforts also helped elect prosecutors in St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles and other big cities.
Mr. Krasner’s reelection bid is being closely watched nationally as a harbinger for the public’s appetite for major changes in the criminal justice system.
His critics, including crime victims and their families, say his policies might be acceptable for low-level crimes, but the major overhauls, including his firing of dozens of experienced prosecutors, turned Philadelphia into a virtual penalty-free zone for criminals.
Mr. Krasner is facing one of those dismissed former assistants, Mr. Vega, 64, in the Democratic primary.
“A 50-50 split is about as good as it gets for a challenger,” Mr. Lee said. “You want a fractured matrix of issues when you’re an incumbent. If I’m the DA, I don’t want people talking about crime and murder around the dinner table, and that’s exactly what’s happening here.”
Mr. Krasner’s campaign did not respond to questions about the poll.
Violent crime has surged during Mr. Krasner’s term, with Black residents overwhelmingly the victims. The homicide rate in 2020 was the highest in three decades. The number of homicides was 499, up 40% from 2019, according to police department figures.
Violent crime also increased across the U.S. in 2020. The U.S. homicide rate rose 25% that year, according to preliminary FBI data. Experts can’t fully explain the spike in homicides in the U.S. Some blame the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted and frustrated the population.
While Philadelphia police have made more gun arrests than ever, the conviction rate for gun crimes dropped, according to an analysis by The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“When voters are asked if they agree it’s time to elect a new DA because under the current incumbent Philadelphia continues to see record spikes in murder and mass shootings, 53% agreed,” Mr. Lee wrote in an internal memo accompanying SPR’s findings. “An additional 51% agreed Krasner should be fired when told the incumbent has a history of releasing violent offenders back into neighborhoods and cutting plea deals for murder suspects.”
The bloodshed has led some top Democrats to waver in their support of Mr. Krasner’s reelection bid. The Philadelphia Democratic Party declined to endorse the district attorney as did Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney.
Mr. Krasner does have the support of some City Council members and prominent state Democrats who have blamed a variety of factors for the city’s increasing violence.
Mr. Vega was competitive with Mr. Krasner on fundraising in 2020, with the challenger pulling in $131,412 in the last three weeks against Mr. Krasner’s yearly haul of $162,000, records show.
But since then, Mr. Krasner again benefited from money pouring into his campaign from liberal donors and celebrities including pop star John Legend.
Outside PACs are the backbone of Mr. Krasner’s campaign finances, records show.
His biggest 2020 contributor was Real Justice PAC, which was founded by racial justice activist Shaun King and others. The group received huge donations from Cari Tuna, a left-wing San Franciscan married to Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.
Most of Mr. Vega’s money has been raised in the city, with police unions, Protect Our Police PAC, and current and former officers as top sources.
The Susquehanna poll surveyed only Democrats who have voted in recent elections, and he noted recent reports that thousands of Republicans have allegedly switched their party affiliation to vote in the May 18 primary.
“Something like that would be impactful and consequential,” Mr. Lee said.