Pew Poll: Gun Violence, COVID-19 Have Hit Philadelphians Hard

Findings also show residents’ views on the police, the pandemic’s impacts, and the city’s future

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Pew Poll: Gun Violence, COVID-19 Have Hit Philadelphians Hard
Gun Violence, COVID-19 Have Hit Philadelphians Hard
Daniel Slim Getty Images

Overview

Philadelphians are struggling with record-high gun violence, and residents throughout the city are concerned for their safety. They also still feel the COVID-19 pandemic’s far-reaching impacts, such as changes in their physical and mental health, household finances, and employment.

Against this backdrop, Philadelphia residents express more pessimism about the city’s future than at any time since The Pew Charitable Trusts started polling residents in 2009—with 63% of residents now saying the city is pretty seriously on the wrong track.

Pew polling conducted Jan. 3-31, 2022, finds that 70% of Philadelphians see crime, drugs, and public safety as the most important issue facing the city—up nearly 30 percentage points from 2020. The portion of residents who feel safe in their neighborhood at night dropped to 44%, the lowest since the poll’s 2009 onset. Sixty-five percent of city residents reported hearing gunshots in their neighborhood in the past 12 months. And 85% believe that gun violence in Philadelphia has gotten worse over the past three years.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to complicate Philadelphians’ lives in ways that affect their livelihood, financial security, and overall outlook toward the city. Nearly half of adult residents know someone who has died from the virus, double the percentage in August 2020. Fifty-eight percent say they experience anxiety or nervousness when thinking about the pandemic, while 34% of those with children say their child’s emotional health is worse than before the pandemic. In most cases, Hispanic and Black Philadelphians experienced these impacts more than White residents, and all Philadelphians with lower incomes and education levels were particularly hard hit.

Fifty-four percent of residents’ jobs changed during the pandemic, and one-third of respondents say they are worse off financially than they were in March 2020. For example, 44% of city residents reported having at least a little difficulty paying their rent or mortgage since the pandemic began. And 61% of Philadelphians with children under age 18 living with them reported difficulties paying their rent or mortgage. So perhaps it is no surprise that many Philadelphians recognize that the recovery for the city and their family may be long or incomplete, with about one-third believing things will never get back to the way they were before the pandemic and 14% expecting it to take at least a year.

And looming issues of violence and poverty continue to dampen the city’s outlook. Just 53% of Philadelphians rated the city as an “excellent” or “good” place to live, down from 66% in 2020. Only 58% of residents expect to be living in the city in five to 10 years, down from 72% in 2019.

Despite this, Philadelphians offered a slight glimmer of hope: A majority said the city’s best days are ahead.

The survey—conducted for Pew by SSRS, an independent research company based in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania—used address-based sampling, with individuals initially contacted by mail. SSRS collected data from 1,541 adult Philadelphia residents; 1,110 filled out the questionnaire online, and 434 completed it on paper. The margin of error for results involving all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. Analyses in this report show weighted percentages among valid responses.

Public safety and gun violence

Gun violence has soared since the beginning of the pandemic, affecting how Philadelphians view their neighborhoods and the city overall. In 2021, the 562 homicides and 2,326 shooting victims represented the highest recorded totals since the 1960s.1

And even more than in recent years, Philadelphians see public safety as the most important issue facing the city, overshadowing other quality-of-life concerns.

When asked an open-ended question about the most important issue facing the city, 70% gave the answer crime, drugs, and public safety—a noteworthy increase of 29 percentage points over 2020 and the highest percentage recorded by Pew polling. The concern about public safety is shared across the city by all demographic groups and neighborhoods. 

Figure 1

Percentage of Philadelphians Mentioning Crime, Drugs, and Public Safety as the Most Important Issue Facing the City

Sharp increase from 2015 to 2022

Note: Polls were not conducted in 2017, 2018, and 2021, so data is not available for those years.

Sources: The Pew Philadelphia Poll, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020, and 2022

© 2022 The Pew Charitable Trusts

After crime, drugs, and public safety, 14% of respondents cite poverty and homelessness as a concern. (See Table 1.) Other issues that had previously been highly ranked, including education/schools and jobs/the economy, became less pressing in 2022. Although at least 5% of respondents mentioned a variety of other concerns, the lesser concerns made up a smaller percentage of responses than in past years.

Table 1

Philadelphia’s Most Important Issues

Percentage of respondents mentioning each topic

2022 2020 2019
Crime/drugs/safety 70% 41% 41%
Poverty/homelessness 14% 18% 12%
Affordable housing/cost of living 6% 7% N/A
COVID-19 impact 6% 10% N/A
Education/schools 6% 14% 17%
Jobs/economy 5% 13% 11%
Government functioning/corruption 5% 7% 5%
Sanitation/trash removal/cleanliness 5% 8% N/A

Note: Issues are listed in order of the percentage of respondents who cited them in 2022; only concerns mentioned by at least 5% in 2022 are shown. Respondents could—and often do—name more than one issue in answer to the open-ended question. Researchers organized the answers into categories. (In 2019, an election year, the question asked about the most important issue facing “the city and the next mayor.”)

Sources: The Pew Philadelphia Poll, 2019, 2020, and 2022

Since the first poll in 2009, Pew has asked Philadelphians how safe they feel in their neighborhoods at night. That number dropped below 50% for the first time in the 2020 poll. The decrease continues in 2022, with only 44% of Philadelphians saying they feel “completely” or “pretty” safe in their neighborhoods at night.

Figure 2 breaks this response down by race and ethnicity. Although 63% of White Philadelphians say they feel generally safe in their neighborhoods at night, only 35% of Black and 32% of Hispanic Philadelphians say they feel safe, a decline since 2019.

Figure 2

Philadelphians Who Feel Completely or Pretty Safe in Their Neighborhoods at Night

Data shown for years of Pew Philadelphia Poll