And that combination of questions revealed something important about American fear: We are terrible at estimating our risk of crime — much worse than we are at guessing the danger of other bad things. Across that decade, respondents put their chance of being robbed in the coming year at about 15 percent. Looking back, the actual rate of robbery was 1.2 percent. In contrast, when asked to rate their risk of upcoming job loss, people guessed it was about 14.5 percent — much closer to the actual job loss rate of 12.9 percent…

Take the crime rate. In 2019, according to a survey conducted by Gallup, about 64 percent of Americans believed that there was more crime in the U.S. than there was a year ago. It’s a belief we’ve consistently held for decades now, but as you can see in the chart below, we’ve been, just as consistently, very wrong…

Crime rates do fluctuate from year to year. In 2020, for example, murder has been up but other crimes are in decline so that the crime rate, overall, is down. And the trend line for violent crime over the last 30 years has been down, not up. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that the rate of violent crimes per 1,000 Americans age 12 and older plummeted from 80 in 1993 to just 23 in 2018. The country has gotten much, much safer, but, somehow, Americans don’t seem to feel that on a knee-jerk, emotional level.