Government Legitimacy, Social Solidarity, and American Homicide in Historical Perspective

By Randolph Roth
May 2024

The recent rise in American homicide rates did not start in 2020 with a spike during COVID. Homicide actually began to increase in 2015, reversing more than 20 years of declining or stable rates.

In this report, Randolph Roth, professor of history and sociology at The Ohio State University, examines this trend in the context of homicide patterns throughout the history of the United States.  

The factors that correlate most consistently with national and regional homicide rates, he finds, are aspects of nation building, arguing that shifts in citizens’ beliefs about the legitimacy of their government, character of leadership, feelings of affinity for or alienation from fellow citizens, and acceptance or resentment of the social hierarchy affect the frequency with which Americans kill each other.

This report is the first offering in HFG’s Violence, Politics & Democracy initiative, a multi-year project examining how these phenomena interact in mature democracies to better understand and counter political violence and other forces that damage democratic norms and institutions, imperiling the safety of citizens.

Read or download the report (PDF)

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