Was crime as bad as it was portrayed ahead of the midterm elections?


Crime, and the fear Americans have of it, has proven to be a popular talking point for election cycles and the 2022 midterm elections were no different.


It played a big role in New York, California, Illinois and more, as some Republican candidates claimed the state’s major cities were riddled with crime and headlines of violence fanned the flames, resulting in crime being one of the top concerns for U.S. voters ahead of the election, some major polling showed. (Exit polls showed inflation and abortion access were also top of mind.)


However, surveys show Americans are continuously bad at perceiving just how much crime is actually happening.


The Pew Research Center found that 61% of voters say violent crime was a key issue of importance when voting in this year’s congressional elections, despite reports from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that show no significant increase in the U.S. violent crime rate. The crime rate — for both violent/property and overall offenses — has been at a steady decline since the crime peak of the 1990s, and remains much lower than that.


Pew found that Americans’ poor perception of crime has been seen in many elections before it: in 2020, 2016, and beyond.


An October Gallup poll found that a whopping 78% of respondents claimed there is now more crime in the U.S., which compares to the record high response in 1992 with 89% of respondents believing there was more crime that year, when crime rates were soaring.


“What people perceive as actually the risk, or the chances that they will suffer a crime is actually not very closely related to what the numbers reflect,” said Rafael Prieto Curiel, a researcher at the Complexity Science Hub Vienna.


He continued, “I can look at a neighborhood with high crime and people might not have high fear of that neighborhood. At a neighborhood level, some neighborhoods are perceived as insecure. But they are not the ones that suffer the highest amount of crime. There are cities that suffer a lot of crime, but they are perceived as secure and vice-versa.”