Crime and the City

by Darren K. Carlson, Government and Politics Editor

New York, L.A. rated unsafe at home and abroad

To some, the mention of life in the big city conjures visions of dark alleys blocked off with crime scene tape. To others, urban life is sophisticated and relatively safe. The latest Gallup survey on crime* examines how safe Americans, Canadians, and Britons perceive some of their largest cities to be. Gallup asked Americans whether they think New York and Los Angeles are safe or unsafe to live in or visit. International surveys asked Britons and Canadians the same question about major cities in their own countries -- and also asked for their perceptions of the safety of New York and Los Angeles.

No matter where the questions are asked, America's two largest cities tend to be viewed as relatively dangerous. Despite a much-publicized drop in New York's crime rate during the 1990s (New York is often reported to have one of the lowest crime rates of any large U.S. city), 54% of Americans consider New York unsafe. A slightly higher percentage of Americans, 59%, believe Los Angeles to be an unsafe place.

Residents of Canada are even more likely than Americans to consider New York and L.A. as unsafe cities. Sixty-nine percent of Canadians say New York is unsafe, and 72% say the same of Los Angeles. A majority of Britons believe both cities to be unsafe (53% for New York and 55% for Los Angeles). Those percentages are similar to what Americans think; however, Britons are much less likely to express an opinion on the two cities, and the data show that Britons are less likely than Americans to consider either of those cities to be safe.

British Cities

Britons are not very positive about safety in their own cities either. Forty-five percent of British respondents consider London, by far the largest city in Great Britain, to be safe, while 50% say it is unsafe. Similarly, 48% consider Manchester unsafe. And 47% consider Glasgow, Scotland, unsafe.

Canadians are far more positive about London: only 23% think it is unsafe, while 73% think it is safe.

Canadian Cities

Canadians are more positive about the safety of their major cities, with a majority considering all four cities asked about to be safe. Toronto, Canada's largest metropolis, is significantly less likely to be viewed as safe than Canada's other major cities, although still almost 6 in 10 Canadians (59%) think Toronto is safe to visit and live in, while 40% believe it is unsafe. Montreal and Vancouver are widely regarded as less dangerous. About a third of Canadians say Vancouver and Montreal are unsafe. Canada's capital, Ottawa gets the highest safety marks by far -- only 1 in 10 Canadians consider it an unsafe place to visit and live.

Interestingly, just as more Canadians than Britons think London is safe, more Britons than Canadians think Toronto is safe -- 68% of Britons say this city is safe, while 11% say unsafe and 20% have no opinion. 

*Results in the United States are based on telephone interviews with 1,012 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 11-14, 2004. 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. The survey was conducted by Gallup USA.

Results in Canada are based on telephone interviews with 1,004 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 6-12, 2004. 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. The survey was conducted by Gallup Canada.

Results in Great Britain are based on telephone interviews with 1,009 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 1-21, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Gallup UK.

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.

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