Trends in Public Opinion: A Compendium of Survey Data

By Richard G. Niemi; John Mueller et al. | Go to book overview

6
Crime and Violence

The United States has been a politically stable but violent nation. American levels of violent crime in general and of murder in particular greatly exceed those of any other industrial country ( United Nations, 1987). Even by America's high standard of violence the situation worsened notably during the 1960s and 1970s with the per capita homicide rate rising from 4.5 in 1963 to a peak of 10.7 in 1980. Since then the crime rate in general has levelled off and even fallen a bit, and the homicide rate in particular dropped back to 8.3 in 1985.

While the number of Americans personally experiencing crimes such as robberies and burglaries in a given year is fairly small (Tables 6.1-6.2), the impact of these personal victimizations and those suffered by friends and neighbors is large and widespread.

In response to swings in the crime rate, the American people became more afraid to walk alone at night in their own neighborhood, with fear rising from about a third in the 1960s to 47 percent in 1982 (Table 6.3). Since then street fear has receded slightly. Fear in one's own home did not change much over this period, however (6.4).

Similarly, the rising crime rate has made Americans more punitive ( Stinchcombe, Adams, Heimer, Smith, and Taylor, 1980). In 1965 only 48 percent thought that courts should be harsher on criminals, but this rose to 85-86 percent favoring harsher punishments in 1978-1986 (Tables 6.5-6.6). Since 1986 the clamor for getting tough with crime has moderated a bit. Attitudes toward wiretapping appear to follow a similar path (6.7).

Perhaps the clearest connection between crime and punitiveness is found in the area of capital punishment ( Smith, 1976; Rankin, 1979). The homicide rate fell from 7.1 in 1936 to 4.5 in 1963 and then rose to 10.7 in 1980 before falling

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Trends in Public Opinion: A Compendium of Survey Data
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Tables vii
  • Acknowledgments xxi
  • Introduction 1
  • References 10
  • 1 - Politics 11
  • References 14
  • 2 - International Affairs 49
  • REPERENCES 51
  • 3 - Taxation and Spending 73
  • References 75
  • 4 - Confidence in Institutions 93
  • References 95
  • 5 - Political Tolerance 107
  • References 109
  • 6 - Crime and Violence 131
  • References 133
  • 7 - Tobacco, Alcohol, Drugs 153
  • References 155
  • 8 - Race Relations 167
  • 9 - Sexual and Reproductive Morality 187
  • References 189
  • 10 - Death and Dying 215
  • References 216
  • 11 - Role of Women 223
  • References 224
  • 12 - Work 235
  • References 237
  • 13 - Religion 251
  • References 252
  • 14 - Family 265
  • 15 - Psychological Well-Being/Group Membership 287
  • References 288
  • Index of GSS Mnemonics 317
  • Index 321
  • About the Authors 327
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