Explaining Misperceptions of Crime

93 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2018

See all articles by Jane Esberg

Jane Esberg

Stanford University

Jonathan Mummolo

Princeton University

Date Written: July 4, 2018


Promoting public safety is a central mandate of government. But despite decades of dramatic improvements, most Americans believe crime is rising—a mysterious pattern that may pervert the criminal justice policymaking process. What explains this disconnect? We test five plausible explanations: survey mismeasurement, extrapolation from local crime conditions, lack of exposure to facts, partisan cues and the racialization of crime. Cross-referencing over a decade of crime records with geolocated polling data and original survey experiments, we show individuals readily update beliefs when presented with accurate crime statistics, but this effect is attenuated when statistics are embedded in a typical crime news article, and confidence in perceptions is diminished when a copartisan elite undermines official statistics. We conclude Americans misperceive crime because of the frequency and manner of encounters with relevant statistics. Our results suggest widespread misperceptions are likely to persist barring foundational changes in Americans’ information consumption habits, or elite assistance.

Suggested Citation

Esberg, Jane and Mummolo, Jonathan, Explaining Misperceptions of Crime (July 4, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3208303 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3208303

Jane Esberg (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

616 Serra Street
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

HOME PAGE: http://janeesberg.com

Jonathan Mummolo

Princeton University ( email )

22 Chambers Street
Princeton, NJ 08544-0708
United States

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