Concerns about certain crimes are at their highest levels in decades, causing Americans to isolate themselves from their communities, according to new polling.
The spike in fear comes as violent crime has decreased nationwide, while property crime has ticked up, according to the FBI.
Fear of certain crimes spiking
A recent Gallup poll found that 28% of Americans worry frequently or occasionally that they will be murdered, according to a Nov. 16 news release. That’s a near-record high.
The Gallup poll surveyed 1,009 adults between Oct. 2 and Oct. 23, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Meanwhile, half of U.S. adults said they worry their car will be stolen or broken into, 37% worry they’ll be mugged and 32% are concerned about getting attacked while driving — near-record highs.
Additionally, the vast majority of Americans, 72%, worry they will fall victim to identity theft, according to the poll.
This heightened apprehension has had a detrimental effect on the daily lives of Americans, causing them to curb commonplace activities.
Four in ten Americans — the largest number in three decades — are afraid to walk within a mile of their homes alone at night, according to the poll. The last time concerns about walking alone were so high was in 1993, when nationwide crime was near an all-time high, according to a 2016 report from the Brennan Center for Justice.
One-third, 34%, of Americans said concerns about crime prevent them from driving in certain areas of their communities, while 28% say these concerns keep them from attending events, including concerts, fairs and sporting games.
More than one-quarter, 28%, of those polled said their anxiety about crime has prevented them from speaking to strangers.
Fears out of step with crime data
These heightened fears are largely out of step with the downward trend of violent crime in the United States, according to government data.
Violent crime in the U.S. peaked in 1991 at a level of 758 offenses per every 100,000 people, according to the FBI. Since then, it has precipitously fallen, though there have been occasional upticks.
After a comparatively small increase during 2020, violent crime fell back to pre-pandemic levels of 380 offenses per every 100,000 people in 2022, data shows.
Property crimes, namely burglaries, jumped up to a total of 847,522 offenses in 2022. But, like violent crime, it has dropped markedly from a high of more than 2.8 million offenses in 1990.
While spikes in urban crime are “serious cause for concern,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice, “history shows these trends do not necessarily signal the start of a new nationwide crime wave, and even with these increases, crime and murder rates remain near historic lows.”
Research has shown that there is no connection between crime rates and levels of concern about crime, Barry Glassner, a sociologist and author of “The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things,” told McClatchy News.
One factor that contributes to the heightened levels of fear is local television news, Glassner said.
“If you watch local TV news in almost any city in the country almost any night, you’ll see scary stories about crime in your community,” he said, noting that these stories are not necessarily reflective of broader patterns.
Additionally, state and local politicians sometimes inflame concerns about crime because it’s seen as a winning campaign strategy, Glassner said.
“My recommendation is to get the facts,” Glassner said. “See whether, in fact, crime is up in your community or if instead you’re hearing a lot about specific incidents that may in fact be alarming, but that do not in any way indicate a trend that you need to worry about.”