Political Climate Influences Perception of Crime: UK Study

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Photo by Akram Kennis via Flickr

The political period in which a person “came of age” has a significant impact on his or her perception of crime, even decades later, according to a new study in the British Journal of Criminology.

Researchers found that the political context respondents grew up in (during the ages of 15 to 25) was a critical time when people formed key opinions and were the most sensitive to social events.

The authors, from the University of Sheffield, University of Southampton and Sciences Po, Paris, analyzed data on fear of crime and antisocial behavior from the British Crime Survey in England and Wales spanning 30 years.

Data showed those who grew up under the leadership of Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990) or John Major (1990-1997) expressed the greatest level of worry about domestic burglary—the same generation that witnessed a dramatic rise in property crime during the 1980s.

Meanwhile, an earlier generation who came of age during the era of Prime Ministers Harold Wilson (1964-1970) and James Callaghan (1976-1979) expressed the highest levels of worry about robbery and mugging, which was a key concern for politicians, policy makers and journalists at the time.

Responses to antisocial behaviors told a similar story.

People who grew up during the Tony Blair and James Gordon Brown governments (from the late 1990s to 2010) reported the highest level of concern about local problems, such as vandalism, loitering teenagers and noisy neighbors; such problems were heavily emphasized and legislated against during this political period.

Moreover, as people travel through life with the political anxieties and beliefs that they were exposed to in their formative years, and they take on the mantle of social, economic and political leadership (they become parents, employers, voters and part of the moral leadership of a society), they bring their own responses to social issues, like crime, and the policy responses they choose to pursue.

The pronouncements that leading politicians make about crime can have a lasting impact on the crime fears of young adults, said researchers.

“Political and popular debates about crime that are prevalent in one’s youth appear to impact the fears those individuals report through adulthood and into middle age,” said one of the paper’s authors, Stephen Farrall.

“In this respect, our narratives of crime and disorder tell us something important about the enduring influence of our political history and the stories we hear about crime.”

These findings could be used to explore political crime rhetoric under the Trump administration and future administrations, the authors concluded.

A full copy of the report can be found here.

This summary was prepared by TCR staff reporter Megan Hadley.

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