Fewer Americans say justice system is 'not tough enough'

Fewer Americans say justice system is 'not tough enough'
© istock

The portion of Americans who believe the country’s criminal justice system is “not tough enough” is the lowest on record, according to a Gallup poll released Monday.

Forty-one percent of those surveyed said they thought the justice system is not tough enough on criminals, that is less than half of the 83 percent who said the same in 1992 when Gallup first measured the sentiment. A plurality continues to hold the view, but it is also down from 2016, the last time Gallup measured it.

Meanwhile, 21 percent of respondents believe the justice system is “too tough,” a seven-point increase from 2016, according to the pollster. Thirty-five percent believe the justice system is “about right,” unchanged from 2016.


Gallup has asked the question five times over nearly three decades, beginning in 1992 when the public perceived local and national crime rates as at their peak. The percentage saying the justice system is insufficiently tough has steadily decreased as crime rates themselves have fallen.

The most recent poll found both partisan and racial splits on the question. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans and Republican-leading respondents said the system is not tough enough, while only 25 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning respondents felt the same.

Forty-five percent of white Americans said the system is insufficiently tough on crime, while 31 percent of nonwhite Americans said the same. A plurality of nonwhites, 40 percent, believe the system is about right, compared to 26 percent, slightly more than the general population, who believe it is too tough.

Each of the four categories has become less likely over the last three decades to say the criminal justice system is not tough enough, with the steepest decline among Democrats, 62 percent of whom said the system was not tough enough in 2000. The percentage of Democrats who say it is too tough has increased more than fivefold, from 6 percent in 2000 to 35 percent in 2020.

Pollsters surveyed 1,035 adults from Sept. 30-Oct. 15. The survey has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.