If It Bleeds It … Gets Ignored?

Pew Research released a note today about perceptions of crime in the US, most of it based on Gallup poll numbers. The main takeaway is well known: crime is way down over the past couple of decades but people still think crime is going up. As I was looking at the raw data, though, something else struck me that I hadn’t noticed before:

These two trendlines track each other quite closely, but the USA line is consistently about 25 percentage points higher. In other words, if you ask people about crime in their own neighborhoods, fewer than half think it’s going up. But if you ask them about crime in the whole country, 60-70 percent think it’s going up.

In one way, this is simply another example of a well-known phenomenon: people almost always think conditions in the country are worse than conditions in their own neighborhoods. Schools are failing, but our schools are pretty good. Congress is horrible, but our rep does a good job. Drugs are rampant, but our town doesn’t have a big problem. Etc.

But I wouldn’t have expected the same result here. Why? Because every time I turn on the local news, it’s wall-to-wall crime for the first ten or fifteen minutes. It’s a wonder there’s anyone alive to still report it. Conversely, national news really doesn’t focus much on crime. Obviously they report on mass shootings and similar things, but it’s a small share of their total reporting compared to local news.

Or is it? And has it changed over the years? Does routine overexposure to local crime news actually make it seem less dangerous? I demand a PhD thesis on this topic.


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