Pew Survey Finds Crime Top Problem Facing Philadelphia

Pew Survey Finds Crime Top Problem Facing Philadelphia

Despite all the attention the current financial woes of city government are getting, residents see crime as the top problem facing Philadelphia. In a poll conducted last month, respondents took every opportunity to express their concern for public safety and to indicate that they consider crime the major downside of living here.

These findings are from a wide-ranging poll of 1,600 city residents commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts' Philadelphia Research Initiative and conducted by Abt SRBI Public Affairs, working with Rutgers Professor Cliff Zukin.

The survey also probed residents' attitudes about city schools, city neighborhoods, city services and the factors that cause most residents to view the city as a good place to live. Previously-released results from this poll show respondents to be highly optimistic that Philadelphia will be better in five years than it is today.

But residents' concerns about crime came up in a number of ways:

  • When asked in an open-ended question what factors they like least about living in Philadelphia, 45 percent of participants say crime or violence.  Next comes dirty streets and trash – named by 8 percent.
  • Of those who say they would move out of the city if they had the chance, 36 percent list crime as the number-one reason, followed by a preference for a suburban lifestyle (10 percent) and concern about their children's schools (8 percent).
  • Asked whether they feel safe outside in their neighborhoods at night, 37 percent say they do not – with 24 percent saying they feel “a little unsafe” and 13 percent “not safe at all.” 

“These results are a reminder that people consider protection from violence and crime to be the basic city service,” said Larry Eichel, project director of the Philadelphia Research Initiative. “Unless Philadelphians feel safe, little else matters to them.”

The poll was conducted before Philadelphia Police Officer John Pawlowski was shot and killed on February 13.

Last year, violent crime declined slightly in Philadelphia, with shootings down 7 percent and the much-watched number of homicides down 15 percent, according to city statistics. But the overall crime rate was unchanged, due in part to an increase in rapes and burglaries.

In the poll, 55 percent of respondents say they are satisfied with the level of police protection in the city. Compared to the satisfaction level they express about other city services, this is about average, higher than for parks and recreation (48 percent) or street repair (33 percent). It is lower than for trash collection (67 percent) or public transportation (71 percent).

Satisfaction with the police is highest among whites, the elderly, members of households with incomes of $100,000 or more, and residents of Northeast and South Philadelphia. It is lowest among Hispanics, younger people, members of households making less than $30,000, and residents of North and West Philadelphia.

Attitudes toward the public school system are decidedly negative.  Only 30 percent of Philadelphians rate the schools as excellent or good, including just 28 percent of public-school parents.  This means that more than 70 percent of parents rate the quality of their children's schools as only fair or poor.

Public opinion about whether the schools have gotten better or worse in the past five years is about evenly split, which represents an improvement from past surveys. And optimism that they will get better in the next five years is widespread, with 50 percent expecting the schools to get better and only 12 percent expecting them to get worse.

Despite their worries about crime and the schools, residents generally give positive ratings to their neighborhoods – the notable exception is North Philadelphia – with residents of Northeast Philadelphia by far the most positive at 79 percent. At the same time, however, the Northeast is the only section of the city where residents say, by a margin of 37 percent to 12 percent, that their neighborhood has gotten worse over the last five years.

In every neighborhood, Philadelphians are worried about the economy. Nearly half (46 percent) cite “lack of jobs” as the most serious problem facing the city, followed by drugs and crime.

Residents of Northeast Philadelphia and South Philadelphia have the greatest awareness of an increase in the number of immigrants in their neighborhoods. City residents who notice such a change were pretty evenly split over whether it is a good or bad thing.

Philadelphians express a mixed view of taxes. Asked whether they consider taxes “too high,” more than 60 percent say that they are. But when asked what they least like about the city or why they might leave, they rarely mentioned the subject. Instead, they focused on crime and, to a lesser extent, the schools.

Residents give the city high marks on numerous fronts, including culture, restaurants, sports, entertainment and general convenience.  Eighty-six percent say the city is an excellent or good place to experience culture. The restaurants get a favorable rating from 83 percent, professional sports from 81 percent and entertainment opportunities from 78 percent.

View the full report: Philadelphia Quality of Life Survey (PDF).

How the study was conducted

The Philadelphia Research Initiative survey was conducted by telephone between January 2 and January 19 among a citywide random sample of 1,600 city residents, ages 18 and older. Most of the survey was completed before January 15, when Mayor Nutter announced that the city's budget shortfall was bigger than previously projected. Interviews were conducted with 1,200 landline users and 400 cell phone users to reach a broad representative sample of Philadelphians.

The final sample was weighted to reflect the demographic breakdown of the city. The margin of error for the entire sample is approximately +/- 2.5 percentage points. The margin of error is higher for subgroups. Surveys are subject to other error sources as well, including sampling coverage error, recording error and respondent error.

Abt SRBI Public Affairs designed the survey and conducted all interviewing, working with Cliff Zukin, veteran pollster and professor of political science and public policy at Rutgers University.

About The Philadelphia Research Initiative

The Philadelphia Research Initiative ( is a new unit created by Pew in fall 2008 to study critical issues facing Philadelphia and provide impartial research and analysis for the benefit of decision makers, the news media and the public. The initiative conducts public opinion polling, produces in-depth reports, and publishes briefs that illuminate front-and-center issues. Coming next month is a comprehensive “State of the City” report, tracking trends on a wide array of indicators, comparing Philadelphia to other cities and to its own past.