Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

What’s familiar isn’t so bad, even if it’s bad.

One of the things I remember from my days in the crim biz is that people’s perceptions of crime don’t have a lot to do with actual crime rates.  This was back in the high-crime decades, and people were more afraid of crime than they are now.  But people felt safer in their own neighborhoods than in other neighborhoods, even when their own neighborhoods had a higher crime rate.

These were the days when I would give someone directions to my building — “Get off the IRT* at 72nd St…” — and they would often ask, “Is it safe?”

“Of course it’s safe.  It’s my neighborhood,” I would say, “I live here. I ought to know.”   Yet when I would go to a party in the East 20s or, God forbid, Brooklyn, I would emerge from the subway and follow the directions with a certain sense of apprehension and caution.

Apparently, the same link between far and fear holds true for people’s perceptions of economic well-being.  A recent Gallup poll asked people how the economy was in places ranging from their own city or area to the world generally.  The closer to home, the better the economy.  The farther from home, the lower the percent of people rating economic conditions as excellent or good.And the farther from home, the higher the percent of people rating economic conditions as “only fair” or poor.Republicans were the most pessimistic about the economy, regardless of location.  Democrats were the most sanguine, with Independents in between. The graph shows the percent who rated the economy positively minus the percent who rated it Poor.This obviously has nothing to do with familiarity but with contempt.  Apparently, for Republicans, a Democrat – especially a Kenyan socialist Democrat – in the White House means that the economy must be bad everywhere.

* These old subway line designations – IRT, BMT, IND – are no longer in official use.  But when did the MTA jettison them?  If you know the answer, please tell me.


UPDATE, June 22 Andrew Gelman has formatted the data as line graphs, making the comparisons and trends clearer.  He has also added his own observations – things I wish I had known or thought of.