It’s a Highly Resilient Fear

In a recent commentary in Slate, public-policy expert James Q. Wilson remarked that the steep drop in crime has helped take that issue off the table in the presidential election. He’s clearly correct in saying crime has been a nonissue thus far—”perhaps for the first time since 1964.” The odd thing, though, is that large numbers of Americans don’t feel crime has declined. In a new Gallup survey, people were asked whether there’s more or less crime in the U.S. than a year ago. The number perceiving a decline in crime is the highest since Gallup started polling on this question in 1989; the number perceiving a rise in crime has correspondingly fallen (from 84 percent in 1989). Even so, you can see from the chart that those seeing a decline in crime are still outnumbered by those who believe there’s been an increase in the past year. As usual, people have sunnier opinions when asked about their own neighborhoods. In the current poll, 46 percent said there’s now less crime in their area than was the case a year ago, versus 34 percent saying there’s more. Sixty percent said crime is an “extremely” or “very” serious problem in the U.S., while just 12 percent said it’s such a problem in their own neighborhoods.