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Survey: 58% of Americans Feel Less Safe in 2020 Than Before the 2016 Election

Safety Team
Updated Mar 1, 2021
9 min read

The United States has been through tough times before, but 2020 is unlike any year in modern history. We’re sitting at the intersection of four separate crises: COVID-19 is the worst pandemic in more than a century, the economy is in the worst shape since the Great Depression, climate change has contributed to massive wildfires along the West Coast, and back-to-back hurricanes continue pummeling the Gulf Coast while the Midwest copes with historic floods.

Against this backdrop, we're just weeks away from a presidential election that both sides agree will be the most important of our lifetime, with a stark partisan divide in which Democrats and Republicans can’t even agree on the most basic facts. Is it any wonder, given everything the country is currently facing, that 58% of Americans feel less safe in 2020 compared to four years ago? Here’s what else our recent survey found regarding safety in the United States.

Survey Results

  • 58% of Americans feel less safe in 2020 compared to 4 years ago
    • 71% of Democrats feel this way
    • 43% of Republicans also feel less safe
  • 58% of Americans feel less safe in 2020 compared to September 2019
  • The leading reasons why Americans feel less safe in 2020:
    • 53% of respondents claim public health has made them feel this way
    • 47% blame public unrest
    • 43% blame economic instability
  • Interestingly, 44% of Republicans feel just as safe in 2020 compared to this time last year
  • Only 14% of respondents have felt completely safe in 2020

Why Do Americans Feel Less Safe?

Covid-19 and Public Health Crises

Survey results reveal 53% of respondents claim public health has made them feel less safe in 2020. A global pandemic has been raging since early in the year, and no matter which side of the aisle you are on, the federal response has been inconsistent and inadequate. While many countries have the outbreak largely under control, COVID-19 continues to devastate the United States. And it’s become politicized, with red states reopening at a far faster rate and implementing far fewer public health measures, such as mask mandates and social distancing, than blue states. It’s hard for many people to know who to trust and what to expect.

Public Unrest

Public unrest is a reason 47% of survey respondents feel less safe in 2020. Racial justice was already a massive concern, but the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a police officer who knelt on his neck proved to be a flashpoint. Overnight, people took to the streets in the largest civil rights movement since the 1960s. Protests have continued ever since, especially in the wake of more recent killings.

While 93% of protests have been peaceful according to the ACLED, clashes between police and protestors have escalated in some cities. In other cities, unrelated hate groups have attached themselves to the protests to provide cover for looting and vandalism. Reports of violence and rioting have led some Americans to feel unsafe, though this is largely divided by racial lines. Among white Americans, 54% report feeling less safe due to public unrest, while only 35% of Black Americans and 33% of Hispanic Americans feel the same.

Among all racial demographics, public health is the leading factor in feeling less safe (55% white or other, 48% Hispanic and 47% Black). But their second and third leading causes vary: For white Americans, it’s public unrest (54%) and economic instability (45%); for Black Americans, it’s public unrest (35%) and crime rates (34%); for Hispanic Americans, it’s economic instability (37%), followed by a tie between crime rates and public unrest (33% each); and for respondents from other racial demographics, it’s economic instability (52%) and public unrest (43%).

Economic instability

For 43% of survey respondents, economic instability is a factor in their feeling less safe in 2020. The initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic was a near-total economic shutdown, though wildly unbalanced by state. The unemployment rate spiked to 14.7%, the worst since the Great Depression. The reopening of states and businesses has been uneven at best, with many businesses being forced to close again due to skyrocketing coronavirus cases. An estimated 60% of businesses that are now closed may never reopen. Is it any wonder that people are feeling the economic pain and uncertainty?

How Do Political Views Impact Feelings of Safety?

In our highly polarized political climate, with a presidential election just around the corner, is it any great surprise that our political views drive even our perceptions of safety? Among Democrats, 71% feel less safe now than they did in September 2016, while 69% feel less safe than they did in September 2019. Among Republicans, just 43% feel less safe, compared to both September 2016 and to September 2019, while 57% of independent voters feel less safe than in September 2016 and 58% feel less safe compared to a year ago.

Public health is a top factor making Democrats (69%) and Independents (55%) feel less safe. For Republicans, public health (31%) comes in third, behind public unrest (56%) and crime rates (48%). Republicans also rank economic instability a distant fourth (24%), while it is the second biggest concern for Democrats (53%) and third for Independents (47%). Still, while their worries differ, few Americans of any political affiliation feel completely safe in 2020: just 9% of Democrats, 16% of Republicans and 15% of Independents report feeling this way.

Do Home Security Systems Help?

Interestingly, across all respondents, 75% do not own a home security system, including 73% of those who feel less safe in 2020. This ownership statistic includes all racial demographics and reported safety concerns, though more Republicans (36%) than Democrats or Independents (22% and 23% respectively) report that they own a home security system.

A home security system can be a smart investment to help you feel a bit safer. It won’t solve the issues that plague the modern world, but in these uncertain times, it can help you relax inside your home — feeling more confident that you are leaving the country’s problems outside your front door.

Survey Methodology

All figures, unless otherwise stated, were taken from a commissioned study by YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,323 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between September 2-3, 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighed and are representative of all U.S. adults (aged 18+)

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