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In U.S., Concern About Crime Climbs to 15-Year High

In U.S., Concern About Crime Climbs to 15-Year High
by Alyssa Davis

Story Highlights

  • 53% worry "a great deal" about crime, compared with 39% in 2014
  • 44% are concerned about drug use, also up significantly since 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' level of concern about crime and violence is at its highest point in 15 years. Fifty-three percent of U.S. adults say they personally worry "a great deal" about crime and violence, an increase of 14 percentage points since 2014. This figure is the highest Gallup has measured since March 2001.

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Twenty-six percent of U.S. adults currently worry "a fair amount" about crime and violence, while 22% worry "only a little" or "not at all."

When Gallup first asked Americans about their level of concern regarding crime and violence in March 2001, 62% said they worried a great deal. That figure remains the highest level of worry in Gallup's 15-year trend on this question. In the months leading up to 9/11, Americans consistently mentioned crime and violence as one of the most important problems facing the country in response to a separate Gallup question. But after 9/11, crime and violence no longer appeared among the list of problems Americans identified as most important, with terrorism rising to the top.

In turn, the percentage saying they personally worry about crime and violence plunged to 49% by March 2002. Crime worry remained at a lower level over the next decade, as Americans named other issues such as the situation in Iraq, terrorism, the economy, dissatisfaction with government and healthcare as the most important problems facing the country. After falling to a record-low 39% in 2014, worry about crime and violence increased in 2015 and 2016.

The rise in Americans' level of concern about crime could reflect actual, albeit modest, increases in crime, as well as increasing media coverage of it. The number of violent crimes reported to police across the country in the first half of 2015 was up by 1.7% compared with the same period in 2014, according to the FBI's 2015 Uniform Crime Report. Many large U.S. cities reported spikes in their homicide rates in 2015, including Milwaukee, St. Louis, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. From a long-term perspective, though, violent crime is down significantly since the 1990s.

Gallup's annual Environment survey asks Americans how much they personally worry about a number of specific problems facing the country. In addition to crime and violence, only two other issues have Americans just as concerned: the economy and the availability and affordability of healthcare. Concern about crime and violence slightly exceeds concern about the possibility of terrorist attacks.

Worry About Crime Rises Across All Major Subgroups

Americans across all major subgroups show heightened worry about crime compared with 2014. Worry has increased the most among those without a college degree and those living in households earning $30,000 to less than $75,000 annually.

More broadly, those with no college education are roughly twice as likely as those with a college degree to worry about crime, and those living in households earning less than $30,000 per year are much more likely than those earning at least $75,000 to worry about crime and violence. Nonwhites' concern about crime is much higher than whites' worry about the issue.

Americans' Level of Concern About Crime and Violence, by Subgroup
% A great deal
2014% 2016% Change(pct. pts.)
National adults 39 53 14
Men 32 49 17
Women 46 56 10
Whites 32 46 14
Nonwhites 59 68 9
18 to 34 34 52 18
35 to 54 40 48 8
55+ 43 58 15
High school or less 50 70 20
Some college 32 52 20
Graduated college 31 32 1
Less than $30,000 59 66 7
$30,000 to $74,999 37 57 20
$75,000+ 28 36 8
Republicans 38 53 15
Democrats 44 52 8
Independents 36 53 17
Gallup poll

Women and older Americans are more worried than their male and younger counterparts about crime and violence. Worry about crime and violence is similar across party groups, though Republicans' and independents' levels of worry have increased more than Democrats' since 2014.

Americans' Worry About Drug Use Also Up Sharply

Americans' worry about drug use has followed the same basic pattern over the last 15 years as worry about crime and violence. Forty-four percent of U.S. adults say they worry a great deal about drug use, up 10 points from the low found in 2014. This level of concern is on the higher end of what Gallup has found since first asking the question in 2001, but is comfortably below the peak of 58% measured that year.

This rise in worry about drug use preceded President Barack Obama's announcement on March 29 about his plan to reduce drug abuse and overdose deaths.

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The uptick in worry about drug use since 2014 spans most subgroups. In general, concern about drug use is higher among those with less education, those with lower incomes, older Americans, women, nonwhites and Republicans. Drug use worry is comparatively low among college graduates and those in households earning at least $75,000 annually.

Americans' Level of Concern About Drug Use, by Subgroup
% A great deal
2014% 2016% Change(pct. pts.)
National adults 34 44 10
Men 30 40 10
Women 38 47 9
Whites 27 41 14
Nonwhites 52 49 -3
18 to 34 22 37 15
35 to 54 35 41 6
55+ 43 51 8
High school or less 46 62 16
Some college 27 41 14
Graduated college 25 22 -3
Less than $30,000 52 55 3
$30,000 to $74,999 34 47 13
$75,000+ 21 28 7
Republicans 37 48 11
Democrats 39 42 3
Independents 28 41 13
Gallup poll

Implications

Gallup reported in October 2015 that Americans perceived more crime in the U.S. than the year before. However, perceptions of local crime held steady. Together, these findings suggest that even if many Americans are not aware of increased crime where they live, they may be exposed to media coverage of rising crime and violence throughout the U.S.

On the drug front, the rise in overdose deaths and media coverage of the nation's opioid abuse and heroin epidemic may be playing into Americans' rising level of worry. The number of drug overdose deaths reached a record high in 2014 and increased 6.5% from 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New Hampshire's heroin epidemic has been a hot topic in the 2016 presidential election, elevating the issue of drug use to the national stage.

Obama's initiatives to address the nation's opioid abuse epidemic, with the goal of treating this type of drug addiction as a public health problem rather than a criminal issue, could assuage Americans' worry about drug use. But those initiatives could also draw more attention to the issue, resulting in increased public concern.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 2-6, 2016, with a random sample of 1,019 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

Gallup


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