70 percent of Americans think crime is worse this year than last year
Despite the likelihood that violent crime overall will be down slightly this year — continuing a general two-decade decline — a Gallup poll taken in October showed that 70 percent of Americans think crime is worse this year than last year, reported Radley Balko of the Washington Post.
Just 18 percent thought crime has gone down. Crime in the United States has been dropping dramatically since about 1994. Yet with one exception, in every year since 1994 there has been at least a 20 percent gap between those two figures. The year 2012, for example, saw the lowest violent crime rate in the United States in 40 years. Yet by about a 50-point margin, Americans still told Gallup at the time they thought crime was getting worse.
Part of this is just due to the nature of news. Last night’s murder is news. A gradual, generation-long drop in murders may occasionally make headlines once we’re aware that it’s happening, but it won’t be in the news every day. Interestingly, Gallup also asks a question that tends to produce more accurate results — whether respondents feel unsafe walking alone at night in their own neighborhood. There, respondents today say by about a 2-1 margin that they feel safe where they live. That question also tracks more closely with the overall crime rate.
Unfortunately, public policy tends to be shaped by the less accurate question — how people believe things are trending outside of their immediate surroundings. Naturally, we rely on what we read and see on TV to form our opinions about what we haven’t experienced directly. And what we see on TV will naturally be the bad stuff that happened, not good news about the bad stuff that didn’t happen.
An analysis of crime and punishment from the perspective of a former prosecutor and current criminal justice practitioner.
The views expressed on this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or postions of any county, state or federal agency.