The New York Times quizzed their readers on crime statistics, and has now released a report showing common areas of confusion or misperception.
Most readers thought Chicago was the murder capital of the country. Readers also thought New York City was more violent than in the past, despite murder rates dropping severely since the 90s.
Why are people so bad at interpreting crime trends? From the NY Times:
A Pew Research report in 2016 found that “voters are usually more likely to say crime is up than down, regardless of what official statistics show.” For decades, Gallup has asked people whether they think there is more or less crime in the U.S. compared with the year before. The question has been asked almost yearly since 1996, and every year except for 2001 the public — usually by overwhelming margins — has said crime has increased.
Some research shows that public demand drives coverage of bad news — that people have a “negativity bias,” a predisposition to focus on and remember negative information, possibly an evolutionary adaptation. In other words, people tend to be more interested in hearing about potential threats they can act upon, like an approaching hurricane, a new virus or a crime spree that has been reported nearby.