Americans perceive a plethora of troubling trends in the U.S., but they are particularly worried about the recent upsurge in violent crime rates across the nation. That’s the message sent by this month’s national I&I/TIPP Poll.
While crime was the top concern, Americans’ anxieties appear to be broadly spread out, with no single issue looming large among their biggest fears.
The I&I/TIPP poll asked people “Which of the following is the biggest threat to the country,” followed by nine possible answers. Among the possible “biggest threats,” just four were able to break into double-digits: The aforementioned issue of “violent crime” (17%), “right-wing terrorists” (14%), “China” (13%), and “rising inflation” (12%).
All the rest — “deteriorating race relations” (9%), “attacks on free speech” (9%), “critical race theory” (7%), “cancel culture” (5%) and “big tech” (3%) — all garnered single-digit mentions in the survey. The third-largest category, at 12%, was “not sure.”
The poll, conducted by TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, is part of an ongoing monthly effort by Issues & Insights and our polling partner to gauge Americans’ beliefs about key issues. The August poll was conducted online from July 28 to July 30 and included responses from 1,322 adults. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 points.
What to make of such a flat dispersion of opinion on so many topics?
For one, far from being a comforting sign that Americans aren’t fearful, it illustrates that they have many things that now preoccupy them.
The sudden emergence of crime and inflation, for instance, as key concerns shows how quickly government policies, ranging from the coronavirus to law enforcement, can have a major effect on public opinion.
In the case of violent crime, a year-and-a-half of “Defund the Police” followed by actual budget cuts for police forces has been accompanied by an upsurge in violent crime, especially murder, and crime’s emergence as a renewed concern for many Americans.
In a 2019 Pew Research survey, for instance, before last year’s BLM-Antifa-Defund the Police movement swept major American cities, crime ranked 11th out of 18 major concerns for Americans. Today, as the I&I/TIPP Poll shows, it’s No. 1.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the groups that have the highest levels of crime victimization are most likely to call it the most serious threat. That would be Blacks and Hispanics, at 22%, and women, at 20%. That’s higher than Whites (16%), Democrats (18%), Republicans (16%), and Independents (17%).
As for inflation, it’s surging as Congress pushes record amounts of new spending and the economy experiences tight supply bottlenecks due to COVID-19 lockdowns. It’s also being propelled by the Fed’s super-easy monetary policy.
What about the No. 2 item? “Right-wing terrorists?” It has been a non-stop topic in the mainstream media since the Jan. 6 Capitol unrest, which got spun as an “insurrection” in some media outlets and by the Democratic Party.
In our poll, it received 14%. So, are Americans really concerned about that?
Certainly some are. But a look at the data shows that it’s mainly Democrats. Some 22% of them called “right-wing terrorists” the nation’s top threat, ahead of the 18% of Democrats who said crime was the biggest issue.
Among Republicans, just 5% called “right-wing terrorists” the biggest threat. Independents, 12%.
The media-driven “right-wing terrorist” meme may soon begin to shrivel after Reuters reported on Friday that the FBI had “found scant evidence that the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was the result of an organized plot to overturn the presidential election result.”
Finally, China, named as the No. 3 threat at 13%, had what for some might seem a predictable political profile for its support: Both Democrats (10%) and Independents (11%) rated the threat from China far lower than the Republicans at 21%.
That latter number may in part be a residual of President Donald Trump’s battles with China over trade, tariffs, and alleged espionage during his time in the White House. Under Trump, the Republican Party retreated somewhat from its traditional support of freer trade as U.S. conflicts with China have multiplied.
Among those clashes is Beijing’s massive global Belt-and-Road project, intended to help China displace the U.S. as the world’s No. 1 economic power. Another is its escalating military threat to neighboring Australia, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines, as well as others.