Since 2008, violent crimes in the United States have decreased dramatically. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, between 2008 and 2015, violent crimes and property crimes both saw decreases of 19 and 23 percent, respectively. The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ annual crime report showed even better numbers, with a 26 percent decrease in violent crime and a 22 percent decrease in property crime.
Despite overwhelming evidence that crime rates are on a downward trend, a Pew Research Center survey recently showed that a majority of Americans think crime has gotten worse—an alarming 57 percent, to be precise. What’s worse, a staggering 78 percent of Trump supporters and 37 percent of Clinton supporters say crime has gotten worse over the past eight years.
As unnerving as this disconnect may be, it isn’t exactly news. Americans have consistently overestimated crime rates, despite the downward trend that has prevailed over the past three decades (though one reason for the mismatched data may have to do with the lag time of national surveys). The FBI and BJS didn’t release their 2015 crime rate findings until this past fall, meaning they don’t capture the most up-to-date data. The widely reported instances of violent crime that characterized this past year may inflate public perception of an overall increase.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice’s preliminary analysis of crime in 2016, it’s unlikely you’ve experienced a real increase of violent crime, unless you live in Chicago. As the authors explain,
They add that while the reasons behind Chicago’s short-term spike in crime need further investigation, this recent trend is likely a result of the socioeconomic problems that plague the city including “high poverty, unemployment, and racial segregation.”
There’s the other factor that Donald Trump’s fear-baiting rhetoric likely aggravated common misconceptions. During his campaign, he depicted Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, while his son compared Syrian refugees to poisoned Skittles. Meanwhile, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that Trump’s election night win has caused a surge in hate crimes carried out in the president-elect’s name. The very people who have an inflated sense of crime rates may be the ones to actualize them. If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that irony knows no bounds.