New Siena poll finds New Yorkers fearful of crime
One of the key issues in last November’s election remains an acute concern. That’s according to a new poll from the Siena College Research Institute, which finds 61 percent of New Yorker's are concerned about being a victim of a crime. 21 percent say they are “very concerned” and 40 percent say they are “somewhat concerned.” Nearly 9 in 10 respondents think crime is a serious problem in the state and nearly 6 in 10 say it’s a serious problem in their community. The poll — in which New York City residents reported being most concerned — also finds 40 percent of respondents have spent more than $100 on security. Dr. Don Levy is the director of the poll. He spoke with WAMC’s Ian Pickus.
So, this poll specifically looks at the issue of crime and how New Yorkers feel about it. What did you find?
We took a look at some of the everyday components of how New Yorkers feel. First off, a staggering number 61% of New Yorkers say that their concerned, personally, that they could be a victim of crime. And when we asked them about some specific, everyday events, we found that about half of New Yorkers tell us that they are concerned, they're worried, when they or their family or going to some public place; a store, a grocery store, a religious institution, they're worried about their safety. What are they doing about it? Many New Yorker's are taking a variety of steps. We've seen purchasing home security systems, purchasing personal safety devices like a firearm. At 12% of all New Yorkers have purchased a gun for self-defense. Pepper spray, about a quarter of New Yorker's say that at this point, they've purchased something like that in order to be safe. And about 1 out of 6 New Yorker's say they've taken a self-defense class in order to be safe. Some of the other everyday situations that we all deal with that are worrying New Yorkers, are just being in a public space. We found that nearly 40% say they have felt threatened by another person's behavior in a vehicle and 36% say they have felt threatened by a stranger's behavior in a public setting. So, it feels like New Yorkers are telling us that they're looking over their shoulder more than before. In fact, we ask them, “Is it different today? Are you more worried about your safety today than you ever were before?” And unfortunately, 41% of all New Yorker's say, “I have never been this worried as I am today about my personal safety.” A majority, 58% say, “I'm no more worried than ever before.” But crime, the threat of crime, the threat of crime affecting them personally is on the minds of New Yorker's, it seems on a daily basis.
Now the hard question: do we know why? In other words, does this correspond with an actual increase in all the incidents you just mentioned?
We did ask some specifics on actual crimes, and I guess it's in the eyes of the beholder whether these are big numbers or not. 9% of New Yorkers told us that they have personally been the victim of burglary. 9% of New Yorkers, greater in New York City at 16%, said they actually had been physically assaulted over the past year. One thing I'll note is there does seem to be a bit of a political tinge to the perception of the threat of crime. When we said are you more worried now about your personal safety than you've ever been before? Republicans 54% say that is indeed the case. Democrats only 34%. So, about a 20-point difference between Republicans and Democrats as to whether this is the worst of times in terms of being worried about crime. So, I think it's both a witnessing of threatening behavior and awareness of crime, but also a bit of a political tinge that crime is a predominant issue.
So, does that tell you, someone who's watched a lot of elections in New York state, that what was one of the key issues in the 2022 campaign remains for people who are running for office?
There is no doubt that crime and safety will continue to be a front and center issue. I think that these numbers show that it resonates with the public. People are worried. When half of people say that they think about it, they worry about it when they or their family are going to be in a public place and certainly when folks are running for office, and they say they hear that issue that hear that worry that hear that complaint, and that they're going to do something about it, that will resonate with the public. Obviously, it's an interesting question as to whether the more we talk about crime, does that make the awareness that much greater and the concern and fear that much greater? Still, New Yorker's are telling us that they're worried about crime, they're taking steps. In fact, we found that 40% of all New Yorkers have gone out and spent at least $100, and in many cases, far more than that on devices or systems to keep themselves safe. So, it will remain a political issue and it will remain an issue that people will talk about in their homes because there is this worry, there is sense of, 'I'm looking over my shoulder.'
Is this the first time Siena has asked about crime specifically?
This is the first time that we asked about some of these behaviors. We have been consistently asking for the last couple of years about the perception of crime and it continues to be very high. If you go all the way back to February of ’22, at that point, 90% of New Yorkers thought that crime was a serious problem across the state. It was a little bit lower at that point, in terms of the personal threat, it was a 57%, now we're up to 61%. So, crime and the threat of crime has been a consistent worry across New York state in our polling since at least the beginning of ‘22.
Do we have any indication about whether New Yorkers' attitudes are different from people in other states on this?
We don't have that data. We do see that New York City, residents of New York City tend to think and tend to say that they feel more threatened, more concerned than folks here, upstate or in Long Island. So, it seems evident that in our more densely populated urban areas, that the threat, the concern of crime is greater than in our less populated areas.
Let me ask you one more sort of psychological question about how the poll is done. When you're talking to respondents and, let's say, not to show my cards, but let's say you called me, which you didn't. I would tell you that I worry about everything. So, how do you frame it in a way that the answer tells you something interesting, as opposed to just picking up on anybody's sort of day-to-day existential worries?
I mean, that's a tough question, really. Certainly, when I ask you, it's like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in 'Ghostbusters.' Once I activate that concern, you are perhaps more likely to tell me that you're worried about it. Still, in the initial question that we ask about, “How serious is crime as a problem?” We often in polls will frame that in a list of seven or eight different societal issues to try to determine, where does crime rank relative to concerns about the economy, the environment, other social or environmental issues? So, I think it's still a fair concern when thinking about the poll that perhaps these numbers are higher, insofar as we've asked you to think about crime, so you're now telling us that you're worried. Still, folks have the opportunity to say, 'No, I'm not worried.' And then, that question that I cited towards the end of the poll where we said, 'Are you more worried today than ever before or you're no more worried than previously?' We still found that over half said, 'I'm no more worry today than ever before.' We try to get around that a little bit by asking about some of these specifics, 'Have you bought a gun? Have you taken self-defense classes?' Those are just factual behavioral questions. And there we found numbers that demonstrate that New Yorker's, they're demonstrating their concern with their behavior. So, if I went out and I purchase a firearm for self-defense, if I took a class for self-defense, if I purchased a new security system that demonstrates that I truly am concerned because I've taken action. So, that was part of the way we tried to get around that psychological activation by saying, 'What have you done?' So, we not only see that New Yorkers tell us that they feel worried, but in what strikes us as high rates, they're taking action to protect themselves. So, that's a real indicator that they are indeed concerned about their safety.