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Americans are hopelessly confused about crime in big cities


Americans think New York is more dangerous than New Orleans, even though Crescent City’s homicide rate is 12 times higher this year. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents rank Washington, DC, as one of the safest major cities in the nation, ahead of cities like Miami, which have a much lower homicide rate. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents consider Seattle dangerously dangerous, even though Houston has twice the homicide rate this year.

Americans are worried about crime ahead of the 2024 election, but few have a clear picture of the problem, according to a Times study of crime data and a recent Gallup poll that asked adults to judge whether 16 big cities are safe places to live or visit. .

Los Angeles, which has the fifth lowest homicide rate this year among the 16 cities in the survey, was ranked the third most dangerous. Forty-one percent of Americans described Los Angeles as a safe place to live or visit, the highest number ever recorded by Gallup for the city.

The Los Angeles results showed that partisanship now plays a major role in Americans’ perceptions of crime and safety. Sixty-four percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents rated Los Angeles as safe, while just 21% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents gave it the green light, the largest gap in the poll . The gap between the ratings of cities by the two coalitions in the survey was 29 points on average. That’s new: Political affiliation barely affected results in 2006, the last time Gallup polled Americans on safety in big cities.

“People misperceive crime rates,” said Jeff Asher, a crime data analyst and consultant who runs a widely used website. “They are not good judges of what is or is not in another city.”

Assessing the safety of cities is tricky. Homicide rates have increased across the country during the pandemic and have since declined, but will likely remain higher this year than they were in 2019. Auto thefts are on the rise nationwide, but some cities, including Los Angeles, are seeing a slight decline. And rates of nearly every type of crime have declined since the early 1990s.

Voters’ opinions are likely influenced by partisanship, media portrayals – including an increase in neighborhood websites and email lists – and factors such as public homelessness, drug use, theft shoplifting and other signs of disorder, policy experts said.

Asher called the Gallup Inquiry “the bane of my existence.” The results seemed so illogical to him that he abandoned a column he was trying to write on the subject. Although it tracks crime closely, it says it’s nearly impossible to fully characterize national security trends in real time, in part because FBI violent crime data can take years to complete and because that it is difficult to define which offenses are most harmful to community security.

Cities like Miami and Dallas, located in states with Republican governors, seem to have seen their safety reputations improve relative to their record, while Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, located in states led by Democratic governors, have suffered. according to Anna Harvey, political scientist and founder and director of New York University’s Public Safety Lab.

Republicans describe Democratic-run cities as haunts of crime and disorder since at least the 1960s. “national identity crisis” and the Democrats who “have been talking about defunding the police for five years”.

Republican criticism of big-city Democratic leaders has been bolstered by tech barons such as Elon Musk and Peter Thiel, who have framed security concerns as part of a larger argument against “the awakened orientation of certain cities, their ungovernability”, declared Richard Florida. professor at the University of Toronto who has written extensively on trends in cities.

Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis tried to channel that energy into his presidential campaign, saying in a recent video he posted from San Francisco that he saw people defecating and using crack cocaine and other drugs on the street, and warning of a “collapse” resulting from “leftist politics”. Fox News reinforced these impressions with frequent segments on homelessness and drugs in major West Coast cities.

“Political rhetoric talks about crimes of common nuisance,” Harvey said. “It may not have anything to do with where the most serious violent crimes are happening.”

Still, voters have reason to worry, she and others say. Experts do not yet know whether homicide rates will continue to fall. Localized issues, including carjackings in New Orleans, are rocking entire communities. Violent crime, which appears to be on the decline, is even higher than it was in 2019, before the pandemic, the killing of George Floyd and the resulting protests, according to a July study by the Council on Criminal Justice .

Harvey said Democrats should “come out” in places where homicides and other violent crimes have fallen, like Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco, and speak out more than crime in Detroit, Washington, DC and Philadelphia. represents “a serious problem”. political problem” which “requires serious policies”.

“Ignoring it or trying to change the subject won’t be an effective tactic,” she said.

Democrats recognize that public concerns about crime are likely to hurt them more than the Republican Party, given that they control the White House and most major city governments. Just 35% of respondents in an NPR/Marist survey conducted in March said President Biden was doing a good job dealing with crime, a rating lower than his already low approval rating. He received similarly poor ratings from people of color and those under 45, voters he must motivate if he wants to be reelected.

“What you have to do is say, ‘Hey, I know this is a serious problem and here’s what I did,'” John Anzalone, a Democratic pollster who worked for Biden, said in a statement. highlighting the work of a mayor in recruitment. and recruiting police and removing guns from the streets, for example.

The Republicans are not about to let go. Whit Ayres, a veteran Republican pollster, pointed to efforts by residents of Atlanta’s affluent Buckhead neighborhood earlier this year to secede from the city, which he said were driven by fear of crime.

Georgia has become a crucial swing state in presidential elections and, in recent elections, for control of the Senate. Ayres says this catapults the issue to the national level, and he mocks those who say his party is exaggerating.

“Tell that to people who are afraid to go shopping at the Lenox Mall in Buckhead,” he said. “They’re not making this up. And asking an economist or political analyst to downplay their fears is a good way to get out of the graveyard of Democratic candidates.”