Baltimoreans across the political spectrum want solutions to crime, even if they have very different perceptions of crime levels and get their news from different outlets, data from the latest Goucher College Poll shows.

It also shows that Baltimoreans grappling with crime in their neighborhood have a lot more in common with 20th-century British fairgoers than you might think.

In 1907, about 800 British tried to guess how much a live ox would weigh once slaughtered and butchered. Each person, by themselves, missed the mark. But when Sir Francis Galton, a good statistician but terrible racist, averaged the group’s guesses together, they were almost exactly right. The ox weighed 1,198 pounds. The crowd’s guesses averaged out to 1,207.

This is exactly what we see with Baltimoreans’ perceptions about violent crime trends in the city. Baltimoreans who responded to the poll were widely wrong about overall crime rates. But, together, the crowd was pretty close on violent crime.

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Only 39.4% of respondents correctly identified whether violent crime in their area had increased or decreased, worse than a coin flip. Most respondents overestimated whether violent crime had increased in their neighborhood. But, if we average respondents’ answers, 64% of ZIP codes were right about violent crime trends. The “popular voice,” as Dalton put it, carries surprising knowledge.

The trend line — that slanting vertical line in the chart above — tells us that as crime increases, the percentage of people in a ZIP code who think crime increased goes up.

This is only true, though, when looking at violent crime trends. Despite the question asking about crime in general, ZIP codes are as wrong as individuals when we compare them against property crimes or property crimes and violent crimes. Since the days of Galton, statisticians have shown that the wisdom of the crowds is a fickle thing, easily dispersed by a few common biases. It’s possible something like that is happening with property crimes in Baltimore.

Crime and Ideology

Respondents of different political leanings take starkly different stances on crime. Conservative Baltimoreans were less likely to correctly say whether crime in their neighborhoods had increased. Just 32% of conservatives were correct — far less than moderates and progressives, both of which were right more than half the time. These differences were statistically significant.

This overperception of crime may be why conservatives support more prosecution of low-level “quality of life” crimes. But surprisingly, there’s agreement among all Baltimoreans on other possible solutions. More than 86% of all groups want the city to allocate more resources toward youth violence. Stunningly, more than 77% of people, including progressives and conservatives, want stricter gun controls and more severe punishments for gun crimes.

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Of all respondents, 4 of 10 support every option pollsters proposed. That’s 40% of Baltimoreans who said yes to harsher punishments for violent crime, more prosecution of low-level offenses, a larger police presence, stricter gun laws, allocating resources away from police, and dedicating more resources to youth violence. Seven out of 10 support five of the six options.

When 61% of people want both more prosecution of low-level crimes and for resources to be allocated away from police and towards social services, you’ve got a sign that people don’t really have strong preferences, they probably just want something done.

These beliefs are stable. We polled most of these solutions in May 2022. Even then, about 40% of people supported all the solutions pollsters proposed. About 72% supported four of the five. The percentage of those who support every proposal combination has changed less than 2%

Media Diet

People in Baltimore care about the news. But their preferred source for it depends on ideological and demographic differences.

Every person surveyed in the Goucher College Poll watched TV news at least once in the last month. While other cities bemoan the death of print, most Baltimoreans also get some news from print or digital news. In the last month, 70% of the city got some news from The Baltimore Sun or The Baltimore Banner. Radio isn’t quite as popular. Only 56% of Baltimoreans listened to radio news.

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Different demographics preferred different outlets. WBAL-TV was the go-to news source for the oldest white viewers and the youngest Black viewers, WJZ-TV was most watched by Black viewers older than 35, and The Baltimore Sun was preferred by white readers between 18 and 54.

In general, Black Baltimoreans and older residents gravitated to TV news, while younger and white Baltimoreans preferred print. This preference, though, is an “and” preference, not an “or” preference. 61% of Black Baltimoreans still got news from some print source compared to 86% of white Baltimoreans.

Partly because Baltimore is a majority Black city, partly because older Black Baltimoreans consume a great deal of news, this means that there are actually more older Black Baltimoreans who got some news from The Baltimore Sun than white Baltimoreans between 35 and 54, despite the latter group’s preference for The Sun.

And while The Baltimore Banner wasn’t the primary news source for any demographic, it was second among young, white Baltimoreans — 27% of whom read it, compared to 32% for The Sun.

nick.thieme@thebaltimorebanner.com

Nick Thieme designs statistical experiments and analyzes data to discover and improve stories about inequality, human rights, health care, and climate change. He has worked as a data reporter and statistician for a variety of public and private organizations, with writing appearing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Slate Magazine, and elsewhere. 

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