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New Poll Shows Americans Think Chicago Is Most Dangerous City In U.S. [It's Not]

By Jon Graef in News on Sep 21, 2014 8:00PM

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A new poll showed that a majority of Americans think Chicago is the most dangerous city in the United States. The headlines about the city's weekend shootings probably aren't helping.

The city's crime rate may be falling—although even that assertion is up for debate, depending on who you ask—but perception of Chicago as a violent, dangerous city remains.

According to Russia Times Today, online market research agency YouGov asked Americans what they thought the most dangerous city in the U.S. was. [Read the full PDF of the poll here.]

Here's the context for the poll, as laid out by YouGov:

Compared to most of the developed world, the United States has an unusually high violent crime rate. Nevertheless, over the past twenty years the US has seen a huge drop in crime. Most violent crime rates, including for murder, have halved in the past twenty years. Much of this improvement has taken place in America's cities.

Chicago included. [Though, again, it depends on who you ask]. And yet:

Most Americans, however, don't recognize that violent crime has dropped so significantly over the past twenty years. Over that time frame the national murder rate has halved, along with non-lethal violent crime, yet half the country (50%) say that violent crime has increased since 1994, and only 22% know that it has decreased. Younger Americans are less likely to say that crime has increased since the mid-90s, while people with a household income of over $80,000 are the only group that tends to know that violent crime has dropped.

Which is why people say things like this:

When asked about Chicago, 53 percent felt it was either fairly or very unsafe, ranking it the “most dangerous” city in the US. Only 33 percent of those surveyed said the city was fairly or very safe. ...

Despite Chicago having taken over the dubious “murder capital” title, crime has actually dropped in the Windy City. The Chicago Tribune tracked crime in the city from 2001 to present, and found that lawlessness has steadily decreased over the last 13 years. Violent crimes peaked at 4,471 in July 2001, property crimes at 14,540 in October of that year, and quality-of-life crimes at 11,326 in October 2003.

So what's going on then? The simplest answer is this: perception is reality. That's what Chicago Alderman and current mayoral candidate Bob Fioretti told Chicago police chief Garry McCarthy last month. McCarthy was at Chicago's City Council to address how the Chicago police department handled crime statistics, which were called into question by a two-part series in Chicago Magazine. This is what was said by Ald. Fioretti and Ald. Scott Waguespack, both members of the city's progressive caucus.

"People out in the city are living in reality, and they don't like to hear their perceptions are wrong," responded Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd).

"Shootings are now higher than they were last year," said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd). He credited the harsh winter for much of the drop in crime stats. "What kind of charade did we see today?

"Scott hit it right on the head," Fioretti added. "Perception is reality to the people of this city."

Whether or not that perception changes is something only time can answer. Broadening media consumption can also help change that perspective. Sites like Chicago Reframed, South Side Stories, and Tilden's America all dig deep to tell the stories of Chicagoans more mainstream news services may not get to. The question of how to cover the city's gun violence with thought and sensitivity has been thoroughly raised, and local reporters are doing their best to properly contextualize the lives of those that suffer it. As long as that continues to happen, Americans' perception of Chicago will change and become more accurate. ln the meantime, though? Don't be surprised by more polls like these.

lncidentally, the most dangerous city in the country is reportedly Camden, New Jersey. Chicago ranks sixth.