Crime

Worry About Crime Remains at Last Year's Elevated Levels

Much more pessimistic about crime trends than 5 years ago

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's 2006 Crime poll finds Americans' view of the nation's crime problem holding at last year's elevated levels. About two in three Americans surveyed Oct. 9-12 perceive there has been an increase in crime nationally over the past year, essentially unchanged from 2005 perceptions, which were the highest since 1997. Over the same period, the percentage saying crime is up in their area increased by a slight but not statistically significant amount, from 47% in 2005 to 51% today. Both figures are as high as has been registered in a decade. There has been no change in the percentage of Americans saying they fear for their safety when walking alone at night within a mile of their home, at 37% today.

All three of these measures have been asked by Gallup since at least 1989. Until 2002, the results tracked closely with federal statistics on the national rates of violent and property crime. This was particularly true from 1993 through 2001 when government record keepers documented steep declines in both forms of crime. Since 2002, however, real crime as measured by the U.S. Justice Department has inched further downward, while Americans have become more pessimistic about both crime nationally and crime in their local area.

The changing correspondence since 1989 in Americans' perceptions about crime and the actual amount of violent crime (based on Justice Department statistics) is easily seen in the associated graph. (Gallup 2006 public opinion data on crime cannot be compared with actual crime statistics until those are publicized in September 2007.)

The sharp spikes in negative perceptions of the rate of crime in 2002 are most likely explained by the widely publicized Washington, D.C.-area sniper shootings occurring at the time. Since then, given the continued low rates of violent crime, it is less clear why the relatively higher levels of concern recorded in 2002 were maintained in 2003, or why pessimism about crime increased again in 2005 after declining somewhat in 2004.

Long-Term Perceptions

Currently 68% of Americans say there is more crime in the United States than there was a year ago, while only 16% say there is less crime and 8% volunteer there is the same amount. This is less pessimistic than in the late 1980s and early 1990s when more than 8 in 10 Americans perceived an increase in crime, but it is far less rosy than 2000-2001 when fewer than half of Americans held this view. Today's level of pessimism on this measure is the highest Gallup has recorded since 1996.

A similar pattern is seen in Gallup's trend in perceptions of local crime -- although perceptions of crime locally are more positive than perceptions of crime nationally. This measure was initiated in 1975, showing relatively pessimistic attitudes prevailing from 1975 through 1992, but turning decidedly more optimistic in the next reading in 1996. From 1996 through 2001, more Americans were positive about the trend in local crime (saying there was "less" crime in their area than the year before) than were negative. However, this reversed itself in 2005, and now, once again, a majority of Americans (51%) say there is more crime in their area; only 30% perceive there being less crime.

In contrast with Americans' variable perceptions of the national and local crime rates, their reports of personal fear of crime have been more stable over time. Since 1965, the percentage saying there is an area within a mile of their home where they would be afraid to walk alone at night has ranged less than 20 points, from 30% to 48%. At no time have more Americans said they are afraid to walk alone at night in their neighborhood than have said they are not afraid, although they came close in 1982 when 48% were afraid and only 52% were not afraid.

Americans' sense of personal security increased between 1997 and 2000, when the percentage not afraid rose from 61% to 66%. It remained at about that level through 2004, but then declined in 2005 to 62% -- about where it remains at today.

Actual 2005 Crime Up Slightly, At Most

The two primary sources of federal statistics on crime are the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department. Because of differences in their data collection methods, the two organizations sometimes present conflicting pictures of annual crime trends. This year, both organizations agree that property crimes fell slightly between 2004 and 2005. However, whereas the Justice Department reports no change in the rate of violent crimes, the FBI finds them increasing by 2.3%.

Through its Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Justice Department bases its estimates of crime victimization on large nationally representative survey of Americans conducted each year. According to the September 2006 Justice Department report "The overall violent crime rate remained stable between 2004 and 2005, while the overall property crime rate declined due to a drop in household theft from 123 to 116 victimizations per 1,000 households." Thus, the low rates of violent and property crime recorded for 2004 (a record low since its first victimization survey in 1973), are little changed in 2005.

Through its annual Uniform Crime Reporting Program, the FBI relies on the actual number of crimes reported to law enforcement agencies nationwide. In its 2006 report, issued publicly in mid September, the FBI stated that between 2004 and 2005 "The estimated volume of violent crime in the nation increased 2.3 percent, but the estimated volume of property crime decreased 1.5 percent."

Rather than reflecting this stabilization of crime rates, Gallup's 2005 Crime survey recorded a sharp increase in perceptions of the trend in crime. Whether or not this year's maintenance of that pessimism is warranted will not be known until official crime statistics for 2006 are compiled after the close of the year and reported next fall.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,001 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 9-12, 2006. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects 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.

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

More

Less

Same (vol.)

No opinion

%

%

%

%

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

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

More

Less

Same (vol.)

No opinion

%

%

%

%

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

12. Is there any area near where you live - that is, within a mile - where you would be afraid to walk alone at night?

Yes

No

No opinion

%

%

%

2006 Oct 9-12

37

63

*

2005 Oct 13-16

38

62

*

2004 Oct 11-14

32

67

1

2003 Oct 6-8

36

64

*

2002 Oct 14-17

35

64

1

2001 Oct 11-14

30

69

1

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

34

66

*

1997 Aug 22-25

38

61

1

1996 Jul 25-28

39

60

1

1994 Dec 19-26

39

60

--

1993 Oct 13-18

43

56

1

1992 Feb 28-Mar 1

44

56

--

1990 Sep 10-11

40

59

--

1989 Jan 24-28

43

57

--

1983 Jan 28-31

45

55

*

1982 Jan 22-25

48

52

*

1981 Jan 9-12

45

55

--

1979 Nov 2-5

42

58

--

1977 Nov 18-21

45

55

--

1975 Jun 27-30

45

55

--

1972 Dec 8-11

42

57

1

1968 Sep 19-24

35

62

3

1967 Aug 3-8

31

67

3

1965 Apr 2-7

34

66

--

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/25078/Worry-About-Crime-Remains-Last-Years-Elevated-Levels.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030