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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

Running L.A. Safety Up the Gallup Flag Poll

September 08, 2000|MIKE DOWNEY

A day after I wrote something about having little or no use for polls, my editor handed me the results of a new poll.

"See what you make of this," he said.

I was afraid that it might show Al Gore opening up a huge lead in the polls overnight. (Which I wouldn't wish to report as news, since I'd prefer to keep George W. Bush thinking of me as a major-league journalist.)

Fortunately, it turns out that this poll has nothing to do with our neck-and-neck presidential race.

"The most recent Gallup poll," begins the most recent Gallup poll, "asked Americans to rate each of 14 cities as 'safe' or 'unsafe.'

"Los Angeles, Miami and New York City top the list of 'unsafe' cities, with over 60% of Americans saying they consider each of these 'unsafe.' "

Well, what a depressing poll.


I can picture the headlines now, in newspapers coast to coast, or even all over the world:


(The long version.)


(The short version.)


(The Orange County version.)

And why?

Because of some pollsters who picked 14 major U.S. cities at random and put the following question to 1,012 pollees on the phone:

"Now, thinking about some large cities, both those you have visited and those you have never visited, from what you know and have read, do you consider each of the following cities to be safe to live in and visit, or not?"

What a loaded question.

In other words, even if you've never been there, what do you think of it? Let's start with Los Angeles--safe or un?

More than 60% responded to L.A., Miami and New York in the negative. Detroit hit the 60% "unsafe" mark on the nose. Washington, D.C., got a 58% thumbs-down. Half of those being polled also gave Chicago the old U-word.

The cities voted safest?

Minneapolis and Seattle.

Gee, I wonder why.

The worst thing that's ever happened to anybody in Minnesota is that a fisherman fell through the ice. The most unsafe anybody in Seattle gets is when a grandmother accidentally scalds herself on a cup of grande latte.

Therefore, as a public service of some kind, a poll announces that "over 60% of Americans" rate L.A., Miami and New York as our unsafest cities to visit.

I can just imagine somebody in Idaho this morning, reading the newspaper over a nice bacon-and-potato breakfast, saying: "Look, Marge. It says here in the paper that Los Angeles, Miami and New York are unsafe."

"Let's not go there," Marge will say.

Darn those polls. Gallup took this one between Aug. 29 and Sept. 5, a couple of weeks after the Democratic National Convention and only a couple of months after the National Basketball Assn. playoffs. Thanks for nothing.

Have somebody call for a Seattle vote again, a few days after the World Trade Organization meets there and demonstrators end up battling in the streets, dressed as sea turtles.

Or let's take another poll:

"Now, thinking about some MORE large cities, both those you have visited and those you have never visited, from what you know and have read, which of these would you say is the safest to live in and visit -- Belfast, Teheran or Los Angeles?"

Next day's headline:


See, we should spin our city any way we can. For example, those polled by Gallup should be asked: "Which one do you think is safer--Southern California or New York?" I personally think that the Gallup person would need to wait 60 seconds for every answer, until the person on the other end stops laughing.


Instead, what happens?

Gallup says that in the last 10 years, New York and Miami have actually "significantly improved their standing on this measure." (In other words, they're still unsafe, but they used to be unsafer.) Whereas, according to the poll:

"Los Angeles has not improved."

We shouldn't stand for this.

Let's demand that Gallup put it a new way: "Which of these cities do you feel safe in because there's no good reason to go outside there--Los Angeles, Seattle or Minneapolis?" That poll, we'd be happy to lose.


Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to: Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. E-mail:

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