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Social & Policy Issues
State Residents Generally Feel Secure but Racial Divisions Exist
Social & Policy Issues

State Residents Generally Feel Secure but Racial Divisions Exist

by Zac Auter

Story Highlights

  • Midwestern, Western and Northeastern states score well on index
  • Idaho residents express highest sense of personal security from crime
  • Blacks express less confidence in local police than non-blacks

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Residents of Idaho express the highest sense of personal security according to Gallup's Law and Order Index of U.S. states in 2015 with a score of 88 out of 100, just ahead of New Hampshire and Utah. Residents in most states generally feel secure, as the lowest two states on the scale, South Carolina and New Mexico, still had relatively high scores of 72.

Top and Bottom States on Gallup's Law and Order Index

Top states
Idaho 88
New Hampshire 87
Utah 87
Wisconsin 86
Montana 86
Nebraska 86
South Dakota 86
North Dakota 86
Wyoming 86
Minnesota 86
Bottom states
New Mexico 72
South Carolina 72
Louisiana 73
Mississippi 74
West Virginia 75
Delaware 76
Tennessee 76
California 77
March 30-Dec. 22, 2015
Gallup Poll

Overall, Midwestern, Western and Northeastern states placed highly on the index, while several Southern states found themselves near the bottom. Looking at the distribution of states on the index, those with larger minority populations occupy the lower half of the scale, while more racially homogenous states tend to score higher. This suggests that, rather than regional differences, state index scores may reflect Americans' divergent attitudes about personal security as it relates to their own race.

Gallup constructs a global Law and Order Index using Gallup World Poll data on people's confidence in their local police, feelings of personal safety and self-reported incidence of theft. The index ranges from 0 to 100 by averaging "positive" responses to these three questions. Higher scores correspond to a higher percentage of the population reporting feeling secure.

The results reported here apply that same index to the U.S. using data collected in Gallup's 2015 50-state poll. The survey was conducted March 30-Dec. 22, 2015, with approximately 500 respondents in every state.

Law and Order Index and State Crime Rates Uncorrelated

The state rankings of the Law and Order Index provide a comparative picture of how the people in each state feel about their personal security and reflect the confidence they have in their local law enforcement. These perceptions, however, do not necessarily relate to official crime statistics in each state.

For example, a state's crime rate does not correlate with people's confidence in local police -- one of the three components of the index. If the states are ranked according to their crime rates using FBI data, confidence in local police remains strong whether a person lives in a state in the top or bottom 20% of the nation. In the bottom quintile of states ranked by crime rate, 82% of Americans report having confidence in local law enforcement, on par with the 79% of residents in the top quintile.

A small relationship exists between respondents' perceptions of their safety -- another component of the index -- and state crime rates. While 81% of those in states with the lowest 20% of crime rates report feeling safe walking alone at night, Americans' perceptions of their safety in states within the highest 20% of national crime rates drop nine percentage points to 72%.

State Crime Rates and Perceptions of Personal Security
Bottom 20% crime rate Second quintile Third quintile Fourth quintile Top 20% crime rate
% Confident in local police 82 80 80 80 79
% Not confident in local police 18 20 20 20 21
% Yes, feel safe walking alone at night 81 78 78 76 72
% No, do not feel safe walking alone at night 19 22 22 24 28
March 30-Dec. 22, 2015
Gallup Poll

Racial Divisions Drive Index Components

Previous Gallup research finds nonwhites, and black adults in particular, to be less likely to say they have confidence in the police. This most recent survey confirms these trends, with 66% of blacks living in all 50 states reporting confidence in local police, compared with 82% of non-blacks. Likewise, though 79% of non-blacks feel safe walking alone at night, only 62% of blacks concur.

These national racial divides -- where black Americans are more likely to express less confidence in police and to feel less safe -- explain, in part, why several Southern states with higher black populations rank near the bottom of the index. Of the eight lowest-scoring states on the index, seven of them rank among the top 11 states with the highest black populations in the U.S. (Washington, D.C., No. 1; Mississippi, No. 2; Louisiana, No. 3; South Carolina, No. 6; Delaware, No. 9; Tennessee, No. 11).

Race and Perceptions of Personal Security
Black Non-black
% Confident in local police 66 82
% Not confident in local police 34 18
% Yes, feel safe walking alone at night 62 79
% No, do not feel safe walking alone at night 38 21
March 30-Dec. 22, 2015
Gallup Poll


While Americans' concern about crime -- among both whites and nonwhites -- has reached a 15-year peak, their confidence in local law enforcement and perceptions of their safety differ starkly along racial lines. Blacks report substantially lower confidence in their local law enforcement and express a greater uneasiness about walking alone at night. In this sense, the U.S. Law and Order Index taps into a nuanced assessment of personal security, rather than a general conception about fear of crime. It assesses multiple facets of individual perceptions of safety, including the institution charged with preventing crime and enforcing laws.

On the heels of several high-profile incidents involving police and black Americans over the past year, the racial divisions reflected in the components of the Law and Order Index have played a central role in discussions of criminal law reform. As analysis of two of the index's components shows here, a racial schism in perceptions of police and personal security, rather than the actual crime rate itself, may be the principal driver of ongoing unrest between minorities and the justice system.

Data on the components of the Law and Order Index are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted March 30-Dec. 22, 2015, with random samples of approximately 500 adults, aged 18 and older, living in each of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total state samples, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Data are weighted to account for unequal selection probability, nonresponse and double coverage of landline and cellphone users in the two sampling frames. Data are also weighted to state estimates of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education and phone status (cellphone only, landline only, both, and cellphone mostly).

Each sample of state adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

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