Poll: Voters say US system isn’t tough enough on crime

(NewsNation) — About 58% of voters say America isn’t tough enough on crime, but they disagree about whether criminal activity is on the rise in their own communities. 

That’s according to the results of a new Decision Desk HQ poll commissioned by NewsNation to gauge Americans’ perception of crime and how it’s handled.

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Voters were split over whether they’ve seen more crime in their community than the previous year. Overall, about 50% said there’s more crime where they live. Broken down by party lines, however, the majority of Democrats, Independents and Republicans said they’ve noticed neither more or less crime. 

Scott Tranter, director of data science for Decision Desk HQ, told NewsNation Digital that just because the majority of Americans say their government is not tough enough on crime, it doesn’t mean they don’t feel safe in their communities.

“This poll is capturing … their perception of crime across America, which can be informed by the news media as well as talking to friends and family that may be across America,” Tranter said.

A mid-year crime trend report from the Council on Criminal Justice suggests levels of nearly all offenses were lower or hardly changed in the first six months of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022.

“It wasn’t too long ago that news reports indicated that crime was way up in the United States,” said Richard Rosenfeld, chair of the CCJ’s Crime Trends Working Group. “Indeed, in 2020, homicide rates rose by almost 30%… and it takes a while for public perceptions of crime to begin to square with reality.”

Motor vehicle thefts were an exception to the decline in crime, with an increase of about 104%, according to the CCJ report. It’s also the crime voters were most worried about happening in their community, according to the NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll.

The root cause of rising car thefts is unclear, Rosenfeld said.

“It is possible that when used car prices went up, as they did year to two ago, that the value of the stolen vehicle increased,” he said. “And that might have increased incentives but again, we don’t know for sure.”

Whether they believe crime was up or down, respondents reported taking safety measures to protect themselves. Those include home security system purchases, carrying mace or pepper spray and avoiding major public events. 

That could be because the majority of voters, 58%, say the criminal justice system isn’t tough enough on crime. Another 21% said it’s about right, while 11% said it’s too tough. 

Republicans were most likely (72%) to say the system is not tough enough. Less than half, about 42%, of Democrats agreed. 

The total population of people in jail, prison and on parole or probation fell by 1% from 2020 to 2021, according to the Department of Justice’s most recent nationwide data.

The U.S. has an imprisonment rate of 350 people per 100,000 residents, according to the criminal justice reform non-profit The Sentencing Project. The more than 2 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails represent a 500% increase over the past 40 years.

Soft-on-crime perceptions aren’t lost on politicians, however.

The past year has seen crossfire between reformist prosecutors and those who consider themselves tough on crime.

Those sentiments have made their way into legislation, too.

In May, Florida’s Republican governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis signed a bill that would make those convicted of raping children eligible for the death penalty.

“While crime is spiraling out of control in many other parts of this country, Florida is enacting policies that are tough on crime and as a result, Florida is at a 50-year crime low,” DeSantis Tweeted at the time.

Decision Desk HQ surveyed 1,000 U.S. registered voters July 17 and 18. The poll has an estimated 3% overall margin of error.

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