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Anger versus fear about crime: how common is it, where does it come from, and why does it matter?

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Abstract

While a long history of scholarship has explored fear as an affective reaction to the prospect of crime, a much smaller number of studies have suggested that anger may be both more common and more predictive of punitive policy views (e.g. Ditton et al. International Review of Victimology 6:83-99, 1999a; Johnson Punishment & Society 11:51-66, 2009; Hartnagel & Templeton Punishment & Society 14:452-74, 2012). This difference matters in that fear and anger imply different stories: fear can be personal while anger necessarily draws our attention to social meanings and connects to broader issues like race relations and racism. We use a nationally representative survey conducted by the ANES to verify what we already know and then ask new questions about the potential sources and other potential consequences of anger about crime. While personal victimizations are associated with fear, victimizations of acquaintances are associated with anger. Anger appears rooted in both racial resentment and the racial context. In turn, while the fearful are supportive of a wide range of approaches to addressing social problems, the angry are only more supportive of crime spending and in fact oppose social assistance spending. Implications for research on affective reactions to crime and for crime-relevant policies are discussed.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. A notable exception is work on anger as a predictor of crime—for instance in general strain models (e.g. [4, 5]).

  2. There are obvious exceptions to this, many of them cited and discussed below in our paper—we mean this only a broad and simplistic summary in order to highlight what a differential focus on anger might offer.

  3. A story whose problems are illustrated by research suggesting men may simply not be admitting to fears [14], that men may feel more comfortable expressing fears for female partners of children [15, 16], and that women’s fears of sexual assaults are well-founded [10, 12]

  4. Of course this kind of perceived vulnerability also has a social dimension. Although work on fear of crime has disproportionately focused on real or perceived vulnerabilities, researchers have also connected fear of crime to broader social concerns (e.g. [23]).

  5. Johnson [9] and Hartnagel and Templeton [8] use measures about attributions for crime rather than inequality in models predicting punitive attitudes. Such a measure was not available in this survey for the whole sample, though we know from prior work that attributions about inequality and crime are related through their common roots in racial attitudes (e.g. [29, 30]).

  6. A note on interpretation: an ordered logit model assumes that regression coefficients remain the same as one moves to different levels in the response, so the odds ratio represents the odds of being in any higher level of fear or anger versus the lower levels. Diagnostics did not suggest multicollinearity was an issue in either model.

  7. A wide variety of prior work has noted and sought to explain higher levels of fear among females (e.g. [10,11,12, 14, 76]). Females are also more likely to be the target of “altruistic” fears [15, 16]. That women do not appear to express higher levels of anger about crime victimization potentially has implications for the academic debate about the meaning of the connection between gender and fear of crime.

  8. At least as captured by simple attitudinal questions measuring affective reactions to the prospect of violent victimization.

  9. Additionally, while prior work has frequently connected views of race (e.g. [77]), and specifically racial resentment (e.g. [9, 78,79,80]), to punitive attitudes generally, we find racial resentment to be associated with less support for both social assistance and crime spending. The key difference may be that the measure reflects spending on crime generally—the racially resentful may wish for criminals to be harshly punished, but they may not support spending more shared resources to do this, in the same way that they oppose any kind of spending on racialized social problems.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Nicky Rafter and the Northeastern University School of Criminology and Criminal Justice faculty writing group for feedback on an earlier draft of this paper.

Funding

This work was supported by a W.E.B. Du Bois Fellowship from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ-2014-3763).

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Drakulich, K., Baranauskas, A.J. Anger versus fear about crime: how common is it, where does it come from, and why does it matter?. Crime Law Soc Change 76, 451–472 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10611-021-09973-y

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