Two-thirds of Americans Believe Crime is Increasing: Is That Belief Justified?

Crime in America.Net

The Gallup Poll below graphically illustrates the America perception that crime is on the rise in this country; two-thirds believe that crime is increasing. Problem is, crime in America is at a 20 year low. According to the National Crime Survey, crime today is lower that when the Department of Justice started to measure it. See

Then why the disconnect? Why do American’s believe that crime is increasing?  

Close to half of all Americans believe that crime is going up locally; approximately where the measure was in 1973 when crime was skyrocketing.

Gallup (below) provides a possible explanation that perceptions of crime may be tied into national events; the more optimistic American’s are, the less they see crime as increasing.

While Gallup knows more about the perceptions of Americans than practically anyone else, we will try an alternate explanation.

Research regarding local news coverage states that crime is a leading and often dominating topic. More important is that the media loves to cover issues that are proxies for crime such as trash, graffiti, noise and other urban problems. Because of the incessant level of crime coverage, citizens of urban areas feel that they are trapped in zone of conflict that can only be solved by more arrests and more prisons.

This is not a “blame the media” exercise; the media gives citizens what they want. Citizens want information on what directly affects them or what could potentially affect them. Crime falls into that category.  

We have national long-range reductions in crime that are nothing short of remarkable. In many cities (New York comes to mind) things have changed so dramatically that you can “feel” and see the difference.

Our guess is that our audience will have better explanations. Please chime in.

Americans Still Perceive Crime as on the Rise

Two-thirds say crime increasing in U.S., 49% in their local area

by Jeffrey M. Jones

PRINCETON, NJ — Two-thirds of Americans say there is more crime in the United States than there was a year ago, reflecting Americans’ general tendency to perceive crime as increasing. Still, the percentage perceiving an increase in crime is below what Gallup measured in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but is higher than the levels from the late 1990s and early 2000s.

 Americans are somewhat more positive about the trend in crime in their local area, but still are more likely to see it going up than going down.

 These trends, based on Gallup’s annual Crime survey, come at a time when both the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics recently reported drops in property and violent crime from 2008 to 2009 in separate studies, as well as documenting longer-term declines in both types of crime. Though the latest Gallup estimates, from an Oct. 7-10, 2010, survey, would reflect a more up-to-date assessment of the crime situation than those reports do, Americans were also likely to perceive crime as increasing both locally and nationally in the 2009 Gallup Crime survey.

The apparent contradiction in assessments of the crime situation stems from Americans’ general tendency to view crime as increasing. That said, the percentage holding this view appears to be higher when crime actually is increasing, as in the late 1980s and early 1990s, than when it is not.

Americans’ perceptions of crime may also be influenced by their general assessments of how things are going in the country. Americans generally believe the crime situation to be better when their satisfaction with national conditions is high, as in the late 1990s, when the economy was strong, and in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, when patriotism and support for political leaders surged. Thus, the current estimates of increasing crime may to some degree be inflated due to widespread dissatisfaction with the state of the U.S. today.

Apart from whether the crime rate is increasing, 60% of Americans believe the crime problem in the U.S. is “extremely” or “very serious,” up from 55% in 2009 and tied for the highest Gallup has measured since 2000. A majority of Americans have typically rated the U.S. crime problem as extremely or very serious in the 11-year history of this question.

As is usually the case, Americans are much less concerned about the crime problem in their local area, as 13% say the crime problem is extremely or very serious where they live.




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    Two-thirds of Americans Believe Crime is Increasing: Is That Belief Justified?

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