The Crime Rate Perception Gap
There’s a persistent belief across America that crime is on the rise.
Since the late 1980s, Gallup has been polling people on their perception of crime in the United States, and consistently, the majority of respondents indicate that they see crime as becoming more prevalent. As well, a recent poll showed that more than two-thirds of Americans feel that today’s youth are less safe from crime and harm than the previous generation.
Even the highest ranking members of the government have been suggesting that the country is in the throes of a crime wave.
We have a crime problem. […] this is a dangerous permanent trend that places the health and safety of the American people at risk.
— Jeff Sessions, Former Attorney General
Is crime actually more prevalent in society? Today’s graphic, amalgamating crime rate data from the FBI, shows a very different reality.
Data vs Perception
In the early ’90s, crime in the U.S. was an undeniable concern – particularly in struggling urban centers. The country’s murder rate was nearly double what it is today, and statistics for all types of crime were through the roof.
Since that era, crime rates in the United States have undergone a remarkably steady decline, but public perception has been slow to catch up. In a 2016 survey, 57% of registered voters said crime in the U.S. had gotten worse since 2008, despite crime rates declining by double-digit percentages during that time period.
There are many theories as to why crime rates took such a dramatic U-turn, and while that matter is still a subject for debate, there’s clear data on who is and isn’t being arrested.
Are Millennials Killing Crime?
Media outlets have accused millennials of the killing off everything from department stores to commuting by car, but there’s another behavior this generation is eschewing as well – criminality.
Compared to previous generations, people under the age of 39 are simply being arrested in smaller numbers. In fact, much of the decline in overall crime can be attributed to people in this younger age bracket. In contrast, the arrest rate for older Americans actually rose slightly.
There’s no telling whether the overall trend will continue.
In fact, the most recent data shows that the murder rate has ticked up ever-so-slightly in recent years, while violent and property crimes continue to be on the decline.
A Global Perspective
Perceptions of increasing criminality are echoed in many other developed economies as well. From Italy to South Korea, the prevailing sentiment is that youth are living in a society that is less safe than in previous generations.
As the poll above demonstrates, perception gaps exist in somewhat unexpected places.
In Sweden, where violent crime is actually increasing, 53% of people believe that crime will be worse for today’s youth. Contrast that with Australia, where crime rates have declined in a similar pattern as in the United States – yet, more than two-thirds of Aussie respondents believe that crime will be worse for today’s youth.
One significant counterpoint to this trend is China, where respondents felt that crime was less severe today than in the past.
How Much Do Americans Trust the Media?
Media trust among Americans has reached its lowest point since Trump won the 2016 presidential election.
How Much Do Americans Trust the Media?
Media trust among Americans has reached its lowest point in six years.
Gallup began its survey on media trust in 1972, repeating it in 1974 and 1976. After a long period, the public opinion firm restarted the polls in 1997 and has asked Americans about their confidence level in the mass media—newspapers, TV, and radio—almost every year since then.
The above graphic illustrates Gallup’s latest poll results, conducted in September 2023.
Americans’ Trust in Mass Media, 1972-2023
Americans’ confidence in the mass media has sharply declined over the last few decades.
|Trust in the mass media||% Great deal/Fair amount||% Not very much||% None at all|
In 2016, the number of respondents trusting media outlets fell below the tally of those who didn’t trust the media at all. This is the first time that has happened in the poll’s history.
That year was marked by sharp criticism of the media from then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
In 2017, the use of the term ‘fake news’ rose by 365% on social media, and the term was named the word of the year by dictionary publisher Collins.
The Lack of Faith in Institutions and Social Media
Although there’s no single reason to explain the decline of trust in the traditional media, some studies point to potential drivers.
According to Michael Schudson, a sociologist and historian of the news media and a professor at the Columbia Journalism School, in the 1970s, faith in institutions like the White House or Congress began to decline, consequently impacting confidence in the media.
“That may have been a necessary corrective to a sense of complacency that had been creeping in—among the public and the news media—that allowed perhaps too much trust: we accepted President Eisenhower’s lies about the U-2 spy plane, President Kennedy’s lies about the ‘missile gap,’ President Johnson’s lies about the war in Vietnam, President Nixon’s lies about Watergate,”
Michael Schudson – Columbia Journalism School
More recently, the internet and social media have significantly changed how people consume media. The rise of platforms such as X/Twitter and Facebook have also disrupted the traditional media status quo.
Partisans’ Trust in Mass Media
Historically, Democrats have expressed more confidence in the media than Republicans.
Democrats’ trust, however, has fallen 12 points over the past year to 58%, compared with 11% among Republicans and 29% among independents.
According to Gallup, Republicans’ low confidence in the media has little room to worsen, but Democrat confidence could still deteriorate and bring the overall national reading down further.
The poll also shows that young Democrats have less confidence in the media than older Democrats, while Republicans are less varied in their views by age group.
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