Like any fiercely polarized issue, the state of crime in America bucks consensus at every angle — good luck finding middle ground across the political spectrum on what’s causing the surge, the best methods to prevent it, and how severe the surge even compares to other record crime waves. But crime — especially violent crimes and murders — experienced a significant increase in 2021 year-over-year, after record-lows for some areas and select types of crime in 2020. Although most Americans didn’t experience the effects of it firsthand, they know their own fears and concerns on an intimate level.
CivicScience surveyed a wide array of adults to gauge their level of concern for crime in their community, along with general feelings of fear in their own daily life. Recent weeks have brought countless reports about murders approaching record highs in American cities last year, but most adults are roughly as concerned about crime as they were in 2017. After the percentage of adults feeling “very concerned” about crime bottomed out in 2020 (23%), it’s since increased nearly 40% in just two years’ time. Americans who are just somewhat concerned about crime typically hover around 40% of adults in aggregate.
The murder and homicide rate especially increased in major cities, and urban residents are significantly more likely to be very concerned about crime in their community, with two in five selecting the highest mark for concern. Nearly one-in-three suburban residents felt “very concerned” about crime within the past six months.
Even if Americans aren’t directly experiencing crime and violence in their community, they’re fielding it through media consumption — and TV and radio news consumers are the most likely to feel some level of concern about crime. Although the negative mental health effects of social media are well-documented (and have given way to terms like “doomscrolling”), people who primarily consume news on social media are the least likely news consumers to be concerned about crime and violence in their community.
When we talk about TV news, it’s often local news for many Americans. But nightly cable news networks are where most of the national crime stories dominate the cycle — and among networks, there’s a significant divide. Fox News viewers are nearly twice as likely as MSNBC and CNN viewers to rate themselves as “very concerned” about crime and violence in their community. But infrequent or non-cable news viewers are the least likely to have felt any level of crime concern in the past six months.
Although one-in-three Americans are currently feeling very concerned about the level of crime and violence in the community, even two-thirds of that group have felt minimal fear in the past week. Broader macro concerns about crime and violent crime specifically don’t appear to translate on an individual for the vast majority of Americans.
Crime media consumption is so far from limited to just cable and local news, with an array of true crime documentary series, films, and podcasts. Three of the top 10 podcasts in Q3 2021 primarily focused on true crime, and a particular worldview tends to gravitate toward them. True crime podcast listeners are more than twice as likely as non-listeners to have “very strongly” felt fear over the past week or so — they also outpace the Gen Pop in any degree of fear.
One common and fairly recent lifestyle change to manage the fears and concerns are home security cameras, typically affixed to the doorbell. People who use these products (Ring, Nest, Arlo, etc.) are, unsurprisingly, more likely to be very concerned about crime. Security camera intenders have a comparable level of overall concern to current users, but lag behind users and the uninterested in the highest degree of crime concern.
Although certain types of crime approach record highs, Americans’ level of concern has returned, but just narrowly exceeds, where it was before the pandemic. Combating violent crime will certainly be ripe for debate ahead of the midterm elections — and a tightrope for city officials — but adults will likely continue to compartmentalize their macro and individual fears.