Monday, November 16, 2020

Americans Are Mixed Up about Crime

If you ask the American public about crime in the United States, you almost always get the same answer. Crime is increasing. The trouble is, the American public is wrong. Gallup surveys reveal just how unhinged attitudes are about crime, reflecting fear rather than facts.  

Let's start with the facts. When Gallup asked respondents in 2020 whether their household or they personally had been victimized by crime in the past 12 months, the percentage who said yes was at a record low on both measures. Twenty percent said their household had been victimized by crime and 13 percent said they personally had been a victim. These are the lowest rates of victimization recorded by Gallup since it first asked these questions in 2000. 

Now let's move on to the fear. Here's what Gallup reports: "Americans are more likely to perceive crime in the U.S. as having increased over the prior year (78%) than they have been at any point since 1993." But if you ask Americans about crime in their local area, where they are more familiar with the facts, only 38 percent say crime has increased in the past year. The gap between perceptions of crime in the U.S. as a whole and local areas is fully 40 percentage points—the largest recorded by Gallup in the three decades it has tracked these trends.

The perception of increased crime in the U.S. as a whole is being driven largely by Republicans, Gallup reports. The percentage of Republicans who say crime in the U.S. is increasing surged by 24 percentage points in 2020 and stands at 83 percent. Among Democrats, 73 percent say crime in the U.S. is increasing, 4 percentage points higher than a year earlier. But when asked whether crime has increased in their local area, a similarly small percentage of Republicans (38 percent) and Democrats (36 percent) say yes. 

"Americans' persistent belief that crime worsened in the past year has been out of sync with federal crime statistics showing that crime rates have fallen," Gallup concludes. "Much of this is politically driven."

Source: Gallup, U.S. Reports of Crime Victimization at 20-Year Low and Perceptions of Increased U.S. Crime at Highest Since 1993

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