Crime Is Down, But Americans Are Convinced It's Rising

Also, some of you are scared of clowns.


We are the 15.9 percent.
The Simpsons

Three social scientists at Chapman University have just released a revealing report on American fears. Among other interesting bits of data, it informs us that the item in its survey that Americans fear most is walking alone at night, that people who watch true-crime TV are more likely to be afraid of the future, and that 15.9 percent of the country is at least somewhat scared of clowns.

Also, Americans are prone to thinking crime rates are getting worse even when they're actually improving. If you're a regular Reason reader, there's a good chance you suspected that already, but now you have some fresh numbers to back up those suspicions:

"What we found when we asked a series of questions pertaining to fears of various crimes is that a majority of Americans not only fear crimes such as, child abduction, gang violence, sexual assaults and others; but they also believe these crimes (and others) have increased over the past 20 years," said Dr. Edward Day who led this portion of the survey. "When we looked at statistical data from police and FBI records, it showed crime has actually decreased in America in the past 20 years. Criminologists often get angry responses when we try to tell people the crime rate has gone down."

Despite evidence to the contrary, Americans do not feel like the United States is becoming a safer place. The Chapman Survey on American Fears asked how they think prevalence of several crimes today compare with 20 years ago. In all cases, the clear majority of respondents were pessimistic; and in all cases Americans believe crime has at least remained steady. Specific crimes queried in the survey were: child abduction, gang violence, human trafficking, mass riots, pedophilia, school shootings, serial killing and sexual assault.

Here's a handy chart:

Chapman Survey on American Fears

While the numbers for riots and serial killings are not majorities, both go over 50 percent if you add the people who say the threats occur about the same amount now as 20 years ago. So you never have a majority saying a crime has declined.

Yes, yes, you say, but what was that thing you said about clowns? Glad you asked:

Chapman Survey on American Fears

N.B.: They didn't survey anyone under the age of 18, so these numbers don't capture those of us who aren't afraid of Bozo now but used to run screaming from the room whenever Sesame Street showed this little John-Wayne-Gacy-makes-time-run-backwards film:

Anyway. I've only scratched the surface of the study. To explore it for yourself, go here.