Americans believe New York is more dangerous than New Orleans, even though the Crescent City’s homicide rate is 12 times higher this year. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents rank Washington, D.C., as one of the safer big cities, above cities like Miami, where the homicide rate is much lower.
Republicans and Republican-leaning independents see Seattle as ominously dangerous, even though Houston has twice the homicide rate so far this year.
Americans worry about crime ahead of the 2024 elections, but few have an accurate sense of the problem, finds a Los Angeles Times review of crime data and a Gallup poll that asked adults to judge whether 16 major cities are safe places to live or visit.
Los Angeles, which has the fifth lowest homicide rate so far this year among the 16 cities in the survey, was ranked as the third most dangerous. Forty-one percent of Americans described L.A. as a safe place to live or visit, the highest number Gallup has ever recorded for the city.
L.A.’s results showed that partisanship plays a huge role in perceptions of crime and safety. Sixty-four percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents ranked L.A. safe, while only 21% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents gave it the all-clear.
The gap between the two coalitions’ assessments of cities in the survey was 29 points on average. Political affiliation barely affected the results in 2006, the last time Gallup asked Americans about big-city safety.
“People are bad at perceiving crime rates,” said Jeff Asher, a New Orleans crime data analyst and consultant who runs a widely used website. “They’re not good judges of what is or what is not safe in another city.”
Voters’ opinions are being informed by partisanship, media portrayals — including an increase in neighborhood websites and email listservs — and factors such as public homelessness, drug use, shoplifting and other signs of disorder.
Anna Harvey, a political scientist and founder and director of the Public Safety Lab at New York University said Democrats should “come out swinging” in places where homicide and other violent crimes have subsided, such as Boston, L.A., Seattle and San Francisco, and be more vocal that crime in Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia represents “a serious policy problem” that “needs serious policies.” She said, "Just ignoring it or trying to change the subject is not going to be an effective tactic.”