Public Opinion Regarding Crime, Criminal Justice, and Related Topics

A Retrospect




Hans Toch, Kathleen Maguire

Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency

July 2014





Forty years ago, Michael J. Hindelang delineated some ways in which public opinion surveys have explored issues related to crime and criminal justice, and pointed out how trends over time could be of interest, and differences in responses among demographic subgroups could be revealing. In this article, we update some of the trends Hindelang alluded to, and revisit some of the response differences he enumerated. In particular, we add support to Hindelang’s hypothesis that the opinions of non-White respondents can reflect consistent awareness of bias in the operation of the system (such as in the application of the death penalty and with respect to interceptions of citizens by police). Age differences in opinions concerning deviant behavior also show attitudinal consistency, particularly in the permissive stance of the youngest age group and the relatively extreme conservatism of “50+” respondents. Finally, with respect to the prospect of victimization, there is a consistent and substantial disparity in the perspectives of men and women. Demographic differences of this kind retain their salience where overall public opinion evolves (as it does with respect to the legalization of marijuana) and where there is negligible change over time (as there is with regard to the death penalty). However, new differences can emerge along the way, as they have in recent polarization along political and ideological lines.








Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee