Majority of Americans Believe Criminal Justice System is Not Tough Enough, Gallup Poll Finds

Public Opinion Divided on Fairness and Priorities of Criminal Justice System

A recent Gallup poll has revealed a significant shift in public opinion regarding the U.S. criminal justice system. The survey, conducted from October 2-23, 2021, found that 58% of Americans believe the system is not tough enough in its handling of crime, marking a sharp increase from the previous year’s record-low of 41%. Additionally, the poll highlights a growing divide on the perceived fairness of the system and priorities for reform.

The Changing Views on Criminal Justice:

Gallup’s survey, which has been conducted periodically since 1992, provides valuable insights into how public opinion on the criminal justice system has evolved over time. Between 1992 and 2003, solid majorities of Americans consistently expressed the belief that the system was not tough enough. However, in 2016, less than half of U.S. adults held this view, with many considering the system to be adequately balanced. The most recent poll indicates a return to the majority opinion that the criminal justice system needs to be tougher.

Political Divisions:

The poll also reveals stark divisions along party lines. Historically, a majority of Republicans have consistently called for a tougher criminal justice system, while the opinions of Democrats have varied significantly, ranging from 25% to 62%. In the current survey, 75% of Republicans believe the system is not tough enough, compared to 42% of Democrats. These findings highlight the ongoing partisan divide on criminal justice issues.

Racial Disparities in Perceptions:

The poll further highlights disparities in perceptions of the criminal justice system between racial groups. While 63% of White adults believe the system is not tough enough, only 49% of people of color share this view. Additionally, a majority of people of color (56%) believe that suspects accused of crimes are treated unfairly, compared to 53% of White adults. These findings underscore the need for a more comprehensive understanding of the experiences and perspectives of marginalized communities within the criminal justice system.

Priorities for Reform:

The poll also asked respondents to prioritize either strengthening law and order or reducing bias against minorities through reforming court and police practices. Overall, 55% of Americans favored strengthening law and order, while 42% preferred reducing bias against minorities. However, there were significant differences along racial and political lines. People of color were more likely to prioritize reducing bias, while White adults leaned towards strengthening law and order. Democrats overwhelmingly favored reducing bias, while Republicans strongly supported strengthening law and order.

Addressing Social and Economic Problems:

Despite the majority preference for strengthening law and order, a significant portion of Americans (65%) believe that addressing social and economic problems, such as drug addiction, homelessness, and mental health, is a more effective way to lower the crime rate. This finding suggests that many Americans recognize the underlying issues that contribute to criminal behavior and believe that a holistic approach is necessary for meaningful reform.


The Gallup poll reveals a complex and evolving landscape of public opinion on the U.S. criminal justice system. While a majority of Americans believe the system is not tough enough, there are significant divisions based on political affiliation and race. The poll also highlights the importance of addressing social and economic problems as part of comprehensive criminal justice reform. These findings underscore the need for policymakers and stakeholders to consider diverse perspectives and prioritize equitable solutions in their efforts to improve the criminal justice system.






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