Just under half (49%) of Americans believe the problem of crime in the United States is very or extremely serious -- a 10-percentage-point drop from last year's 59% and the first time the number has been below 50% since 2005.
According to a Gallup poll:
- Though a solid majority of Americans (60%) say there is more crime in the U.S. than a year ago, it is an eight-point drop from last year and the lowest percentage to say crime is on the rise since 2004. Twenty-five percent say there is less crime.
- A slight change in the views of Americans about crime in their local area has resulted, for the first time since 2001, in a higher percentage saying crime is decreasing (42%) than increasing (39%). Last year 38% said it was decreasing, up from 33% in 2016.
- Nine percent say crime is a very serious or extremely serious problem in the area where they live -- a small drop from last year's 12%, but the first time it has dipped into single digits since 2004.
The FBI's annual reports show a drop in the national violent crime rate in 15 of the 20 years from 1998-2017, with the overall rate falling from 568 crimes per 100,000 persons in 1998 to 383 crimes per 100,000 last year. Over the same time span, Gallup asked Americans in every year but one (1999) if crime was increasing or decreasing nationally, and in all but two years (2000 and 2001) a majority said it was increasing. Only once, in 2001, did a higher percentage say crime was decreasing (43%) rather than increasing (41%), Gallup said.
Gallup has also measured whether Americans think crime locally ("in your area") is increasing or declining -- first asking the question in 1972. The 42% who now say their area has less crime than in the previous year is one of the lowest in the 30 times the question has been asked. The only three times the percentage saying "less crime" has been higher -- in 1998 (48%), 2000 (46%) and 2001 (52%) -- are also the only times other than this year that Americans were more likely to say it has decreased than to say it has increased.
In the last two years, Gallup said, there has been a significant change in views on the question after a 12-year stretch when Americans were far more likely to think crime was increasing in their area than to think it was decreasing. From 2005 through 2016, an average of 47% said there was more crime than in the previous year and 31% said there was less.
Overall, said Gallup, though majorities of Americans have said since the turn of the century that crime has been increasing and is a very or extremely serious problem, they have shown less concern about it than they did in the 1990s. In that decade, crime often topped the list of what Americans saw as the nation's most important problem; now it is seldom mentioned by more than 3% of those polled. Throughout the 1990s, it ranked as one of the issues that mattered most to voters. In recent national elections it has not been prominent enough as an issue to be measured in election polls.
"Now, in addition to those changes, there are signs that the American public is moving toward a more positive perception of the crime situation in the nation -- one that is more in line with what government crime rate measurements tell us has been occurring," Gallup said. "While sizable numbers of Americans still think the problem is very serious and increasing, it is encouraging to see that the gap between Americans' perceptions and government-issued crime rates is closing, not because the crime rates are increasing, but rather because the public's views are growing less negative."