ICYMI: The latest op-ed in @crainschicago from our CEO Will Johnson explores how investing in leisure and nightlife could aid in attracting new residents and businesses to Chicago. Read more: https://bit.ly/3rqCf8F
The recent @MeredithCorp + @HarrisPoll national study explored how the pandemic changed women's shopping behaviors. Our CEO Will Johnson & Britta Cleveland of the Meredith Corporation explain how retailers can use these busy shopping weeks ahead: https://bit.ly/3xZ7wRu
We teamed up with the @macfound to see how Chicagoan's perspectives on public safety have changed since first exploring the topic earlier this year. Explore key city concerns and more: https://bit.ly/3rsFgFC
A broad majority of U.S. adults are concerned about the recently identified omicron variant of the coronavirus and fear it will bring a new surge in Covid-19 cases, a new Harris poll finds, surpassing people’s fears about the delta variant over the summer—even before the variant has been formally detected in the U.S. and as much about it remains unknown.
The poll, conducted November 24-28 among 1,585 U.S. adults, found 64% have heard “a lot” or “a little” about the omicron variant, which was first detected in southern Africa last week.
Of those aware of the variant, 78% are very or somewhat concerned it will “evade existing Covid-19 vaccines”—something experts have raised concerns about, given its high number of mutations, but has not yet been proven.
A further 87% believe it is very or somewhat likely the variant will result in new restrictions and a surge in domestic Covid-19 cases.
That’s a more pessimistic outlook than Americans had about the highly transmissible delta variant over the summer: A Harris poll conducted July 9-11 found 72% of respondents were very or somewhat concerned about the strain and 51% of vaccinated respondents questioned the vaccines’ efficacy in light of the variant.
Concern about the omicron variant cuts across all demographics—with even 85% of Republicans and 78% of the unvaccinated believing cases will go up—though Gen Z is the most optimistic, with only 61% believing the variant will spur more cases and restrictions.
People of color are the most concerned about omicron, with 96% of Asian or Pacific Islander respondents, 85% of Black respondents and 91% of women of color expressing concern about vaccines’ efficacy against it and 93%, 94% and 94% of those demographics, respectively, believing the variant will cause cases to rise.
The unvaccinated are unsurprisingly the least concerned the omicron variant will evade vaccines’ protection, but the Harris poll found even 61% of unvaccinated respondents and 51% of those who refuse the vaccine are at least somewhat concerned.
President Joe Biden has urged Americans to stay calm, saying in an address Monday the new strain is “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.” “We’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions, and speed — not chaos and confusion,” Biden said. “And we have more tools today to fight the variant than we’ve ever had before — from vaccines to boosters, to vaccines for children five years and older, and much more.”
A separate Morning Consult poll conducted November 29-30 found a majority of respondents backed a broad variety of measures to combat the omicron variant, including improved ventilation systems (81% support), social distancing (79%), international travel restrictions (78%), supporting efforts to vaccinate low-income countries (76%) and mandatory mask usage (72%), though only 44% support closing businesses or government facilities. The poll also found a 40% plurality believe people have “the right amount of concern” when it comes to the new variant, and that the variant could persuade the unvaccinated to get the shot, with 30% of unvaccinated adults saying they’d consider getting inoculated due to omicron.
Since being first identified in Africa last week, the omicron variant has now been identified in numerous countries around the world, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Botswana, South Africa, Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal and Germany. The variant has not yet been formally detected in the U.S., though public health experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci have said it’s “inevitable” it will spread in the U.S. as well. The World Health Organization has identified omicron as a “variant of concern” given its potential transmissibility and evasion of vaccines, but little is yet known about the variant and public health experts have cautioned more data is needed to make any conclusions about the new strain. Nevertheless, the variant has sparked panic, causing stock markets to plunge worldwide on Friday and the U.S. and other countries to impose new travel restrictions.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
More information on the severity of the omicron variant should be known hopefully by next week or so, Fauci said on Monday in an interview with Good Morning America, and the effectiveness of the vaccines against the new strain is now being tested, with results expected in at least two weeks. Though vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have said they’re working to update their shots to protect against omicron if the data shows their effectiveness is diminished, Fauci said Monday people should not wait for these updated shots—which would be months away, at least—and should get a booster shot immediately to protect themselves. Biden has so far said he will not impose additional restrictions like lockdown measures, saying Monday there’s “no need” for harsh restrictions “if people are vaccinated and wearing a mask.”
Read the full story at Forbes.
Residents of Chicago see gun violence as its biggest problem and agree that the police department needs reforms. But they see many, sometimes opposing, paths to reimagining public safety.
In March 2021, we teamed up with The Harris Poll to survey Chicagoans about public safety. The results showed a city that wanted reform but disagreed about how to get there. A follow-up poll conducted in the fall shows how perceptions have changed. After that first survey, we shared a key takeaway: though the city is divided in how to get to reforms, we all share some common goals. That is still true.
These two surveys suggest that framing our shared goals with their community-focused similarities can help residents find common ground.
What Has Changed
When residents are asked about the most important problem facing Chicago, gun violence is increasingly the top concern, now up from 50 percent to 57 percent. The solutions they support to address gun violence have also changed: compared to the spring, more people support legislative and policing solutions.
Trust in police has gone up slightly overall, though it continues to be moderate at 6.15 out of 10. This increased trust could be supporting the belief that police presence, community engagement, and follow up after gun violence can help reduce violence.
Younger generations and Asian American and Pacific Islanders are the exception: these groups report less trust in the Chicago Police Department (CPD) than in the beginning of 2021. And in police encounters, more people of all demographics report negative experiences (23 percent of all residents, 37 percent of people of color) or being racially profiled (33 percent of residents of color).
These two trends—the perception and actual experience of police interactions—seem to counter each other. The difference could be due to the higher police presence in the summer months. As city officials try to reduce violence through policing, it also increases the chances of negative experiences.
Support for Reforms and Solutions
In both surveys, about three-quarters of residents believe CPD needs reform and want increased funding for police alternatives. Residents do not think the city has done enough to reform policing and public safety. There is broad support for sensitivity training, new gun use policies, and integrating social workers onto the police force.
Chicagoans feel more racial tensions, a falling sense of community, and increased concern for safety of marginalized groups. Residents are also concerned about people who are the most marginalized—residents of color and people who are experiencing homelessness and mental and behavioral health issues.
People believe that these issues are systemic and support the alternatives to policing to address them. Residents overwhelmingly support increasing funding for social services, non-police public safety alternatives, and meaningful police reforms.
These solutions and reforms require budget changes, and the framing of budget questions matters. While 46 percent of respondents support “defund the police”, when you reframe it as “reallocating CPD budget,” 56 percent support it. If police budgets were to be reallocated, as this question suggests, residents prioritize funding gun violence reduction tactics.
In fact, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2022 budget closely reflects the priority on violence reduction and policing alternatives. The budget boosts police spending to $1.9 billion with an additional $52 million for mental health initiatives, $150 million for youth programming, and $85 million for violence intervention.
How we frame our city’s problems clearly has a big impact. We share similar goals across racial and ethnic backgrounds and neighborhoods. Even with the perceived divides in our city, if we call our neighbors in, we can take advantage of wide support for reform.
Download the full Harris report on reimagining public safety.
Read the full story at The MacArthur Foundation Perspectives.
Attitudes towards solutions addressing these issues remain nuanced and divided along racial, socioeconomic, and generation lines as well as lived experiences. Even so, Chicagoans still desire changes to the laws, systems, and organizations that contribute to and help prevent the violent crime plaguing the city.
Revisiting Key City Concerns
Today, most residents still do not agree Chicago has a strong sense of community and have not seen improvements in race relations. They agree even more often that such issues are systemic. Additionally, they express increasing concern about police-resident relations in the city.
Because public safety can support the sense of community and protection residents feel, it is important to look at how Chicago area residents feel about the current condition of their city. Similar to what we learned in Q1 2021, residents are still fairly divided on if Chicago has a strong sense of community (only 47% agree it does), and they continue to perceive a decline in local race relations.
Seventy-eight percent disagree that race relations in Chicago are good right now, and 71% also disagree that compared to this time last year, race relations have improved. For both sentiments, this represents an uptick of 5% from six months ago.
Even more Chicago residents also view the city’s race issues as systemic. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of residents disagree that “race-related issues in Chicago are due to a few bad actors, not systemic issues.” This sentiment has also increased 6% over the last six months.
About half of all Chicago residents view race relations and police-resident relations as on par with other U.S. cities, but there is a large and growing plurality that see room for improvement. We can see this come into play when we look at how residents describe police and race relations compared to other cities in the U.S.
Today, even fewer residents think that race and police relations are better in Chicago than in other U.S. cities. While half of all residents still say race and police relations are on par with other cities, there is a growing plurality that think both overall race relations and police-resident relations are becoming worse in Chicago than in other parts of the country (up 3% for both situations).
Overall sense of neighborhood safety is still moderately high among residents, but there are also safety concerns regarding vulnerable communities in Chicago.
On a scale of 0 to 10, all Chicago area residents give their neighborhoods an average safety score of 7.03. However, if we look at different sections of the Chicagoland area, we can see with more detail that safety levels increase as one lives further from the city itself. More specifically, city residents consistently report lower safety levels than the Chicagoland average. Those living in the suburbs consistently report moderately high levels of safety, but as the middle ground between the city and the outlying suburbs, residents of Cook County suburbs report some of the lowest levels of neighborhood safety for suburban residents.
Unsurprisingly, residents report high levels of concern about the personal safety of historically marginalized communities like the homeless (85%), residents of color (83%), and residents with mental or behavioral health conditions (87%). Such concern indicates that current support systems in place may not be effectively protecting and promoting people in need.
Although concern for the vulnerable or potentially vulnerable is high across all residents, such concern is especially high among younger adults and African Americans. This could be due to a variety of factors, such as closer proximity to these communities given housing locations, the fact that these segments over-index on social consciousness, or increased experience mental health issues compared to their counterparts that influences comfort with expressing support for those suffering from similar situations.**
Residents also take a critical view of the city leadership’s efforts to support the marginalized neighborhoods.
Compared to 6 months ago, residents are no longer equally divided on whether city leadership* has done a good job of investing in and supporting historically marginalized neighborhoods. Today, most residents (61%) disagree that it has done a good job. Consequently, more than four out of five residents (84%, up 4% from Q1 2021) continue to agree that city leadership could do more to tackle inequality across Chicago.
Nevertheless, when it comes to the city’s most important issues, gun violence remains the primary concern while racial concerns and social services increasingly take a back seat.
Today, 57% of all Chicago area residents say gun violence is the most important problem in Chicago today – an increase of 7% from six months ago and more than 5 times higher than the next mentioned problem, property taxes.
In fact, gun violence is followed by more financial concerns such as property taxes and economic inequality. Perhaps surprisingly, despite increased local news regarding resident maltreatment by police, police treatment of Black and Latino residents is now perceived as less of a priority by city residents when compared to other local issues.
Given climbing crime rates during the summer of 2021, it’s unsurprising that 81% of area residents feel gun violence is worse in Chicago than in other U.S. cities (up 6%). This is higher than how residents feel about other trending crimes in the city, such as carjackings (76% say this is worse in Chicago than other cities), other violent crimes (63%), and non-violent crimes (42%).
Priority #1: Tackling Gun Violence
So how does the city increase the sense of safety, especially with regards to gun violence? Today, Chicago residents show increased support for solutions related to legislation, law enforcement involvement, and some neighborhood level support programs.
When considering solutions related to legislation, among those who agree gun violence needs to be reduced in Chicago, there is a slight uptick in those who perceive background checks (65%, up 2%), higher penalties for gun-related crimes (64%, up 4%), and red flag laws/extreme risk protection orders (50%, up 6%) as effective gun violence reduction tactics.
Initiatives that require the involvement of law enforcement are also perceived as effective by most residents today. More specifically, there has been a slight uptick in those supporting police presence in areas with high gun violence (58%, up 3%) and police engagement with residents in areas with high gun violence (51%, up 3%).
Neighborhood-level and city-level support programs are currently only perceived as effective by approximately two in five residents that agree gun violence needs to be reduced in Chicago.
Ultimately, this reveals that where gun violence is concerned, residents want to see visible, direct solutions used as a first line of defense to deal with gun violence, namely the law and law enforcement.
Struggling to Progress: Assessing Chicago Police Performance
Overall, most area residents still think that police officers are doing their job well. That said, given the controversy regarding police treatment of protestors during Summer 2020 and ongoing stories of the mistreatment of city residents, confidence in the force has ebbed over the last six months.
Sixty-one percent of all residents say that members of the CPD are handling their job well (down 2%). However, when looking at perceived effectiveness with crime, while the majority still feel police are effective at handling crime, the share of those who do not feel the police are effective at resolving crime in their neighborhoods and the city has grown (44%, up 7%; and 47%, up 5%, respectively).
This varied sense of effectiveness is reflected in the level of trust some residents have in the police. On average, trust in the police remains moderate among Chicago residents. On a scale of 0 to 10, resident trust in the police averages at a 6.2 out of 10, which is a minor overall increase from Q1 2021. That said, broader plans in trust rating are still similar to Q1 2021: older generations, White residents, and suburban residents give higher scores than their counterparts.
Though lower in trust compared to their ethnic counterparts, there have also been minor upticks in the sense of trust Hispanic and African American residents have in the police. Part of this is because while 21% of African Americans and 13% of Hispanics said they had no trust (0 out of 10) in police in Q1 2021, in Q3 2021 this “no trust” percentage has fallen to 11% of African Americans and 10% of Hispanics.
One reason for these minor upticks law enforcement ratings may be that residents have found a new enemy: local crime. With crime rates increasing, residents may trust police more because there is no one else to trust for dealing directly with these issues.
Despite moderate trust and anticipated respect overall, compared to six months ago, more residents report negative experiences with police and even greater anxiety towards reporting police misconduct for fear of retaliation.
Most Chicagoans are still confident the police would treat them with respect in a hypothetical interaction (though this has dipped slightly from 78% to 75%). However, when it comes to actual ratings of how respectful police officers are to them, Hispanic and AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) residents report declines in officer respect ratings. Broader plans in respect rating also are similar to Q1 2021, that being, older generations, White residents, and suburban residents give higher scores than their counterparts.
This comparative anxiety among ethnic minorities regarding trust and current and anticipated respect appear well-founded based on experiences over the last six months. In Q1 2021, 16% of all residents said they had had a negative experience with a member of the CPD. In Q3, this is now 23%, pointing to indicating a likely increase in resident interactions with the police during Summer 2021. Digging deeper, just 14% of White residents say they have had a negative experience with a member of the CPD (up 6%), but this is even higher for residents of color at 37% (up 12%).
Moreover, the share of residents that say they have been racially profiled in at least one interaction with police officers in Chicago has increased from 11% to 17% over the last six months.
There is also greater anxiety towards reporting police misconduct for fear of retaliation. Today, nearly two in five residents (39%) say that if they were to report police misconduct to the Chicago Police Department, they believe they would receive retaliation from officers for filing a complaint; this is more than double the share who felt this way in Q1 2021. Looking at racial experiences again, compared to a quarter (28%, up 18%) of White residents who hypothetically fear retaliation from reporting misconduct, it’s nearly twice the rate for people of color (55%, up 35%).
A similar trend exists for those who have been afraid to report actual police misconduct (23% of all residents, up 12%; 14% for White residents, up 9%; 35% for residents of color, up 17%).
In fact, one in five Chicago residents (21%) say they have felt the need to intervene or observe the interactions between a Chicago police officer and a resident at some point.
This reveals that while Chicago leadership has tried to curb violence by pushing police presence in the city, it has also increased the potential for negative incidents, racial profiling, and the suppression of misconduct reports.
What this makes especially clear is that there is a nuanced reaction to how residents perceive police presence, especially given the targeted increase in police during the summer months. The presence or idea of increased police force may make residents feel safer and increased leadership attention may make some feel more hopeful that the police will treat them with respect and are therefore, worthy of trust. However, when it comes to in-person reactions, it seems many residents, especially those of color, feel they still have a reason to be cautious.
Still a Worthwhile Cause: Pursuing Public Safety Solutions for Chicago
About three quarters of all area residents still agree Chicago law enforcement needs reform. When looking at how residents want to see law enforcement change, it appears the focus is still less about the money given to the department and more about how people want the department to invest in change.
When residents were asked again what law enforcement reform would look like to them, training changes still came out as the tactic most residents want to see implemented. They show especially increased support for sensitivity training for all officers (56%, up 7%).
New policies on gun use (50%) and the introduction of social workers (50%) also saw a 9% increase in support compared to six months ago.
Again, as evidenced with funding reduction at the bottom of the chart above, although the policy has seen some increase in support (up 3%), residents still appear less focused on taking money away or redistributing police funds. They appear more concerned about how current police funds can be used more effectively to create a police force that residents believe in and trust to protect them.
It makes sense, then, that while residents don’t see the department as over-funded, they do still think that there should be more funding for non-policing alternatives.
Most still do not see the current level of funding for the Chicago Police Department as too high, but three-quarters of all residents still agree there should be more funding for non-policing alternatives, such as social work dispatches, neighborhood patrols, and restorative justice circles.
Again, it appears that Chicago residents want more money going to non-policing alternatives, but reducing police department funding – though a potentially effective tactic to them – is not necessarily the primary tactic they would like to use for ensuring non-policing alternatives are financially supported.
That being said, there has been an increase in those supporting the reallocation of police funding. When thinking about police budget reallocation and the funding of social and non-police public safety services, it’s very clear that, framing matters.
Currently, most Chicago residents are still opposed to the specific “Defund the Police” campaign (only 46% support it).*** However, there has been some uptick in support across various resident segments. What’s more interesting is that when asked if they simply support police budget reallocation to underserved social services, most Chicago residents are actually in support of the initiative (56%).****
Knowing that residents prioritize training as an opportunity to improve the Chicago police force, we also examined how they feel about officers’ training in some key public safety situations.
Overall, residents consider officer training in various public safety situations to be middling; on a scale from 1 to 5, residents’ perception of officers typically averages out around a 3.
Most residents think officers are best trained for responding to domestic safety and personal safety concerns, like stalking, harassment, or even physical fights. The net share of those who think CPD training for such issues is excellent or good is close to 40%.
On the other hand, residents see the most room for training improvements in issues related to cultural awareness and working with residents with mental or behavioral health issues. In fact, specifically regarding mental health concerns, two in five residents think that officers have been poorly trained – which may be one reason why half of residents who support law enforcement reform would like to see social workers integrated into the department.
Even so, Chicago residents do realize that no one team – including the CPD – is equipped to handle every urgent situation in the city.
In general, situations perceived to be high risk – those that involve an immediate threat to someone’s physical safety or the law itself – are those that residents want to be primarily addressed by CPD. However, as the primary concern becomes more focused more on residents’ wellbeing, most residents would prefer that CPD play a less significant role.
Taking a closer look, 71% of residents believe that officers should be all or mostly responsible for responding to reports of suspicious behavior (e.g., trespassing, loitering, unfamiliar, vehicles). Nearly as many (69%) feel the same about situations involving personal safety concerns (e.g., physical fights, harassment, stalking). Most residents (61%) also believe that officers should be all or primarily responsible for neighborhoods concerns like noise complaints or disorderly conduct.
Still, emergency calls are rarely so cut-and-dry. In those highly variable situations – issues like domestic disputes or drug-related activity – there’s a clear call for balance. In some of those more complicated situations, social services teams are viewed as valuable alternative resources.
Digging deeper into some of these more personal issues, social services are frequently selected as who should share responsibility with police or have the primary or sole responsibility instead of police. We see this with domestic disputes (59%), drug related issues (49%), wellness checks (60%), and mental health concerns (78%).
As 2021 draws to a close, the story of public safety in Chicago remains largely the same: solutions to key city issues like gun violence and police treatment start with leadership and reform. What has changed is the sense of urgency that residents feel about such issues.
Chicago leadership has tried to curb violence by pushing police presence in the city during the summer months, but this has also increased the level of negative incidents and nuanced fears about local law enforcement.
Despite concerns about police-resident relations, Chicago area residents still prioritize more direct tactics – the law and law enforcement – as the most effective ways for dealing with gun violence and other crimes. However, this may simply be because residents have yet to find a better alternative for dealing with crime than the police.
Therefore, residents support reform for public safety in Chicago and see training improvements, new regulations, staffing updates, and – to a lesser degree – funding redistribution as tactics for creating such reform. Moreover, compared to six months ago, they show greater enthusiasm for several reform measures – most noteworthy, police budget reallocation to essential, underfunded social services like mental healthcare programs, youth services, homeless services, and affordable housing efforts.
*In the survey, “Mayor Lori Lightfoot” was used in the questions answered by respondents.
**These suggestions, though informed, should be treated as speculative instead of conclusive.
***Note, this was measured in September 2021. This number is an aggregate, weighted value of all Chicago area (both city and suburb) residents. Support and opposition for Defund the Police varies by specific demographics, such as race/ethnicity, age, urban level, and household income. Before indicating their support or opposition, residents were given a brief description of Defund the Police: “Perhaps you have heard of the campaign ‘Defund the Police,’ which refers to the movement to reduce police department budgets and redistribute those funds towards essential social services that are often underfunded, such as housing, education, employment, mental health care, and youth services. Given this understanding, how much do you support or oppose this campaign?”
****This number is an aggregate, weighted value of all Chicago area (both city and suburb) residents. Support and opposition for Defund the Police varies by specific demographics, such as race/ethnicity, age, urban level, and household income. Before indicating their support or opposition, residents were given a brief description of the initiative: “In an effort to support essential social services that are often underfunded - such as housing, education, employment, mental health care, and youth services - there have been proposals to reduce police department budgets and redistribute those funds towards these essential social services. How much do you support or oppose such proposals?”
This survey was conducted online within the United States between September 14, 2021, and September 21, 2021, among 1,001 adults (aged 18 and over) in the Chicago DMA by The Harris Poll on behalf of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Q1 2021 survey was conducted online within the United States between March 1, 2021, and September March 12, 2021, among 997 adults (aged 18 and over) in the Chicago DMA. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.
All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, the words “margin of error” are avoided as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.
Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in our surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of Chicago’s adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the online panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For more information on methodology, please contact Dami Rosanwo or Madelyn Franz.
For more information on The Harris Poll’s partnership with the MacArthur Foundation, please contact Kristen Mack.
Download full data tables here.
Chicago is the largest Midwestern city, but residents don't think the city's entertainment, culture and nightlife are keeping pace with that status.
While 70% of Chicago residents believe the city is attracting new businesses and residents, only 28% think leisure and nightlife options contribute to this growth, according to a recent study conducted by the Harris Poll.
This perception may have implications for Chicago's retention of current residents and its long-term growth: Nationwide, 44% of U.S. adults say that the presence of restaurants plays a role in how they rate their city as a place to live, according to the Harris Poll. Roughly one-third of U.S. adults say entertainment options play a role in how they rate their city, while 1 in 4 cite arts and culture organizations.
Further data paints an even more worrisome picture for Chicago's reputation. Only 37% of residents view the city as "up and coming," and 49% describe the city as "boring."
And while 59% of residents believe Chicago has improved in the last five years, this falls below the sentiment of residents in other metros, where, on average, 67% of residents say their city has improved in recent years.
For inspiration, Chicago can look to what's unfolding in nearby metros, where residents are more optimistic about the vitality of their cities. In Detroit and Indianapolis, 45% and 40% of residents, respectively, say that their cities' entertainment options attract new people and businesses.
Chicago was once known for its thriving nightlife. As Chicago leaders plan for future growth, they should examine opportunities to increase investment in the city's leisure and entertainment to keep residents going out—and staying local.
Data from the Harris Poll is based on responses from 1,996 adults in a nationwide study and 3,931 adults in a city-level study.
William Johnson is CEO of the Harris Poll, a public opinion, market research and strategy firm based in Chicago.
Read the full story at Crain's Chicago Business.
Millennials are the serial killers of our time. Millennials are killing home ownership, we’re killing casual dining, we’re killing wedding traditions, soda, even crime. But here’s one thing we might just save: movie theaters.
Before the pandemic, 18 percent of millennials reported going to the movies weekly, and 27 percent reported going monthly, the highest numbers in any age group. Since the pandemic, those numbers have dipped: only 8 percent of millennials have gone weekly over the last year, and only 17 percent report attending movies monthly. Gen Z (ages 18 to 24) actually polls slightly ahead on the monthly question, at 19 percent.
Numbers are down across the board, however, and the older the age group, the worse they get. The figures for baby boomers are particularly striking: whereas 26 percent of those age 57 and older said they “never” went to movies before the pandemic, that number spikes to 71 percent over the last year.
One could suggest a number of variables influencing these figures. Perhaps there is some confusion as to what’s playing where; a previous Harris Poll showed that only 34 percent of people knew the blockbuster “Dune” was out on HBO Max and in theaters simultaneously. But it’s hard to look at theater hesitancy among older cohorts as anything other than a reflection of concerns about covid-19.
Older audiences are, understandably, more concerned about activities that take place in indoor public settings given that covid-19 becomes more dangerous the older you get. Of the approximately 750,000 American deaths attributed to the coronavirus by the Centers for Disease Control, almost 700,000 were people 50 and up. So even though movie theaters are among the safest indoor places you can go, some trepidation is understandable.
And theaters haven’t exactly catered to older audiences over the last decade or two. The biggest hits aren’t adult dramas or awards-season fare. Rather, multiplexes are inundated with comic book movies and franchise titles such as “The Fast and Furious” or “Jurassic Worlds” series, as well as family-friendly animated options. Look at the domestic box office for 2021; the top three films — “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” and “Black Widow” — are all Marvel or Marvel-adjacent.
The fourth is “F9: The Fast Saga.”
Millennials and Gen Z-ers have fewer health worries. As Axios noted, the per-100,000 weekly death rate for vaccinated adults between the ages of 30 and 49 from July 11 to Sept. 4 was just 0.11 — meaning that roughly 1 in 1,000,000 vaccinated people died of covid-19 per week over that stretch. At this point, safety shouldn’t be a concern.
What is a concern is that irrespective of genre, audiences are more likely to want to watch movies at home than in theaters after experiencing the option during the pandemic. Audiences say they’d rather watch a comedy at home 72 to 28 percent, which is at least a little unexpected, given the joy of communal laughter — but it makes some sense if you think that big screens equal spectacle. But even spectacle polls better at home: Respondents prefer to watch sci-fi movies from the couch 65 to 35, and adventure movies 60 to 40. That said, there’s a hopeful surprise on this last question: Answers showed little difference by age group.
In other words, there’s not much evidence that younger cohorts have grown particularly disdainful of the theatrical experience in their time away, as one might anticipate from a generation raised on streaming and cell phones that has now tasted similar cinematic convenience. There’s no reason to think they can’t be convinced to come back in pre-pandemic levels. Whether that means a better food and beverage experience, a la the Alamo Drafthouse or Angelika Film Center chains, or simply releases windowed in a way that requires the most excited guests to see films in theaters so they don’t feel behind, is harder to say.
But if there is hope for theaters, it must lie in the millennials and their successors. And theater owners should keep that in mind as they scour box office results.