UPDATED: Biased Media Coverage on Crime: “Almost 80 percent of Americans, and 92 percent of Republicans, think crime has gone up. It actually fell in 2023.” Yes, murder fell in 2023, but still higher than in 2018 and 2019.

Dec 18, 2023 | Media Bias

UPDATE April 4, 2024: The original post had preliminary data on the murder rate and it turned out that the murder rate had not fallen quite as much for 2023 and the NBC article and others were claiming. The figure at the top of the page includes the final FBI number of murders for 2023. The basic point remains the same: whether we used the initial estimates or the final numbers, the murder rate in 2023 is still above the rate in 2018 or 2019.

Original Post: December 18, 2023

Murder plummeted in the United States in 2023 at one of the fastest rates of decline ever recorded, Asher found, and every category of major crime except auto theft declined.

Yet 92% of Republicans, 78% of independents and 58% of Democrats believe crime is rising, the Gallup survey shows. . . .

Ken Dilanian, “Most people think the U.S. crime rate is rising. They’re wrong.” NBC News, December 16, 2023.

The media might make a big deal about the historically large drop in murder from 2022 to 2023 (and given the above poll numbers even among people who vote for Democrats it is understandable why they are trying to help him out), but the news media fails to mention that comes after the even bigger historically large increase that occurred between 2019 and 2020. Indeed, the murder rate is still higher than it was in 2019. When asked it crime has gone up, the question is relative to when. The 2023 murder rate using the data for the first three quarters of 2023 is 4.1% higher than in 2019, the year immediately before the pandemic. A 4.1 percent increase might not be a lot, but it is still an increase.

The NBC article gives a different estimate that the murder rate may have fallen 12.7 percent this year. If so, the murder rate would be 5.54 per hundred thousand and that would be a 7.4 percent increase over 2019.

Given the problems in recent years about the number of police departments that haven’t been reported crime data, we would want to know what police departments were reporting the data. In 2022, some of the largest police departments in the country (where a large proportion of murders are committed) didn’t report their data to the FBI.

The 12.7 percent drop for 2023 might be more accurate because it is including some major police departments, where most murders and violent crime are occurring, that were left out of the FBI data.

But assuming that the data is correct, there can be several reasons for the increase: you no longer have large numbers of inmates from jails and prisons being released during the first two plus years of the pandemic. A number of cities have reversed their cuts in police. Schools are no longer closed down, so you don’t have large numbers of delinquents roaming around. Finally, there are a lot more people legally carrying concealed handguns for protection. Our survey estimate for 2023 is that 15.6 percent of general election voters are carrying concealed handguns.

The article did contain this one important fact that might also impact people’s perception of crime.

FBI data doesn’t have a separate category for retail theft. It falls under “larceny,” which declined overall last year, according to the latest numbers. Retail theft is widely believed to have skyrocketed in some cities, and the industry says it is at “unprecedented” levels. But the data doesn’t necessarily support that thesis.

FBI data