Americas

Perceptions of Crime Problem Remain Curiously Negative

More see crime worsening rather than improving

PRINCETON, NJ -- In more than three decades of measuring public perceptions of the U.S. crime problem, Gallup has never found Americans to be highly upbeat about the issue. However, the public was much more optimistic about crime a few years ago than it is today, according to Gallup’s annual Crime poll, updated Oct. 4-7. 

 

With about half of Americans currently saying crime is up in their local areas, and about 7 in 10 saying it is up nationally, Americans have a decidedly negative outlook about crime.

 

 

 

 

The recent increase in negative public perceptions of crime contrasts with actual government crime statistics, which show that rates of violent crime as well as property crime have generally leveled off at extremely low numbers.

 

Slim Majority Says Crime Is Up in Their Areas

 

Current perceptions of local crime are similar to what Gallup found the previous two years. Since 2005, roughly half of Americans have said they believe there is more crime in their areas compared to a year ago, while close to 3 in 10 have said there is less crime.

 

In 2004, Americans were evenly split at 37% over whether local crime was increasing or declining. From 1998 to 2001, roughly half of Americans said there was less crime, while no more than 34% said there was more crime.

 

Perceptions of local crime have not been as negative as they are today in more than a decade. 

 

 

 

Most Also Believe National Crime Is Up

 

The picture is similar with respect to public perceptions of the national crime problem. The percentage of Americans now saying there is more crime in the United States than a year ago (71%) is statistically similar to the 68% recorded in 2006 and 67% in 2005.

 

Attitudes were more positive from 1997 through 2004, but unlike perceptions of local crime, at no time have perceptions of the year-over-year change in U.S. crime rates been significantly more positive than negative. The highest proportion saying there was less crime in the United States than the year prior was 43% in 2001, similar to the 41% then saying there was more crime.

 

 

The Local vs. National Divide 

 

Separately, Gallup asks respondents to rate the seriousness of crime in their local areas as well as nationally. Relatively few Americans call the nation’s crime problem “extremely serious,” but combined with those who call it “very serious,” a majority hold negative views of the national crime problem.

 

By contrast, only 15% of Americans consider crime in the areas where they live to be extremely or very serious, while 51% do not view it as serious.

 

Description of Seriousness of Crime Problem

 


Extremely serious


Very serious


Moderately serious


Not too serious

Not serious
at all

 

%

%

%

%

%

In the United States

20

37

39

2

*

In area where you live

5

10

34

34

17

* Less than 0.5%


Americans’ absolute rating of the seriousness of the national crime problem dipped from 60% in 2000 to 42% in 2004, but the rating has since climbed back to 57%.

 

 

Perceptions of the seriousness of crime in one’s local area have hardly changed over this period.

 

 

Perceptions out of Sync With Reality?  

 

Americans’ perceptions of the national crime problem are presumably informed to some degree by official reports on crime that percolate out to the public. The two primary sources of federal statistics on crime are the FBI (which bases its estimates on actual crime reports) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics within the U.S. Justice Department (which relies on a large nationally representative survey of Americans).

 

Because of differences in their data collection methods, the two organizations sometimes present conflicting pictures of annual crime trends. But the long-term pattern from both is clear. Rates of violent and property crime declined sharply during the 1990s and have since leveled off at historically low rates -- at least lower than at any time since the Bureau of Justice Statistics began collecting data in 1972.                                  

 

 

 

 

The Justice Department has not issued its 2007 report on crime for the 2006 calendar year, but the FBI reports that the rate of violent crime rose in 2006 by 1.9%, while the rate of property crime fell by an identical amount.

 

Thus, Americans’ current perceptions that crime is up could reflect the slight but real increase in violent crime between 2005 and 2006 as reported by the FBI. However, this does not explain their increasing pessimism about the rate of crime over the past several years, at a time when both organizations showed crime declining or holding steady. 

 

 

Americans’ pessimism about crime may reflect an overly negative interpretation on their part of the fact that the decline in crime has tapered off. It could possibly reflect a real increase in media attention to crime on the local and national news. Or it could reflect Americans’ broader dissatisfaction with the way things are going in the country, a sentiment that extends from ratings of President Bush and Congress to the economy, as well as to their satisfaction with the direction of the country more generally.

 

Survey Methods 

 

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,010 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 4-7, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

 

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

12. Is there more crime in your area than there was a year ago, or less?

 

 

More

Less

SAME (vol.)

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

2007 Oct 4-7

51

29

17

4

 

 

 

 

 

2006 Oct 9-12

51

30

15

4

2005 Oct 13-16

47

33

18

2

2004 Oct 11-14

37

37

22

4

2003 Oct 6-8

40

39

19

2

2002 Oct 14-17

37

34

24

5

2001 Oct 11-14

26

52

18

4

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

34

46

15

5

1998 Oct 23-25

31

48

16

5

1997 Aug 22-25

46

32

20

2

1996 Jul 25-28

46

24

25

5

1992 Feb 28-Mar 1

54

19

23

4

1990 Sep 10-11

51

18

24

8

1989 Jun 8-11

53

18

22

7

1989 Jan 24-28

47

21

27

5

1983 Jan 28-31

37

17

36

10

1981 Jan 9-12

54

8

29

9

1977 Nov 18-21

43

17

32

8

1975 Jun 27-30

50

12

29

9

1972 Dec 8-11

51

10

27

12

(vol.) = Volunteered response

 

13. Is there more crime in the U.S. than there was a year ago, or less?

 

 

More

Less

SAME (vol.)

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

2007 Oct 4-7

71

14

8

6

 

 

 

 

 

2006 Oct 9-12

68

16

8

8

2005 Oct 13-16

67

21

9

3

2004 Oct 11-14

53

28

14

5

2003 Oct 6-8

60

25

11

4

2002 Oct 14-17

62

21

11

6

2001 Oct 11-14

41

43

10

6

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

47

41

7

5

1998 Oct 23-25

52

35

8

5

1997 Aug 22-25

64

25

6

5

1996 Jul 25-28

71

15

8

6

1993 Oct 13-18

87

4

5

4

1992 Feb 28-Mar 1

89

3

4

4

1990 Sep 10

84

3

7

6

1989 Jan 24-28

84

5

5

6

 

15. Overall, how would you describe the problem of crime [ROTATED: in the United States/in the area where you live] -- is it extremely serious, very serious, moderately serious, not too serious, or not serious at all?

 

A. In the United States

 


Extremely serious


Very serious


Moder-
ately serious


Not too ser-
ious

Not ser-
ious at all


No
opin-
ion

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Oct 4-7

20

37

39

2

*

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2006 Oct 9-12

17

39

41

2

*

1

2005 Oct 13-16

19

30

46

4

*

1

2004 Oct 11-14

13

29

52

5

*

1

2003 Oct 6-8

17

37

40

4

1

1

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

22

38

35

3

1

1

* Less than 0.5%

 

B. In the area where you live

 


Extremely serious


Very serious


Moder-
ately serious


Not too ser-
ious

Not ser-
ious at all


No
opin-
ion

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Oct 4-7

5

10

34

34

17

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2006 Oct 9-12

3

9

35

35

18

*

2005 Oct 13-16

5

7

30

39

19

*

2004 Oct 11-14

2

6

31

37

24

*

2003 Oct 6-8

4

7

33

35

21

*

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

3

9

35

35

18

*

* Less than 0.5%

 

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/102262/perceptions-crime-problem-remain-curiously-negative.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030