Poll: More Americans favor spending on police at current levels


A close-up photo of police lights by night (Credit: Getty Images)

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NEW YORK — More Americans support keeping spending on policing in their areas about the same (42%) than want it increased (31%) or decreased (25%), according to a poll from the Pew Research Center released Thursday.

With marches and protests still ongoing since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, the Black Lives Matter movement is rallying around cries to “defund the police.” Protesters have popularized the phrase, which supports moving funds from police departments to other forms of public safety, namely social services.

Other polls released in mid-June focused on the issue of funding as well, finding varied results. An AP-NORC poll found a quarter of Americans supported reducing funding for law enforcement agencies, 53% opposed it and 21% neither favored nor opposed it. However, a Fox News poll found 41% favored and 46% opposed “reducing funding for police departments and moving those funds to mental health, housing, and other social services.”

AP-NORC’s and Pew Research Center’s questions didn’t include tradeoffs and both found lower support for reduced funding, while in the Fox poll, when respondents were presented with information about funding allocation, support was higher. Pew also specifically cited “policing in your area,” where respondents are more likely to think about their local departments and concerns for safety in their communities.

In the Pew survey, the clearest divide on police funding is between Republicans and Democrats, with 41% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents wanting a decrease in spending versus just 8% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.

Black Americans are more likely to favor a decrease in spending (42%) over Hispanics (24%) and Whites (21%). However, among Democrats and leaners, the numbers between Blacks and Whites level out, with 42% of Blacks and 43% of White Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who want police funding decreased. Both White and Black Democrats under the age of 50 are much more likely to support decreased funding than those over 50 (57% of Whites under 50 and 53% of Blacks under 50 compared with 28% of Whites over 50 and 29% of Blacks over 50).

Fewer Americans than in 2016 gave police around the country positive ratings for various measurements, including holding officers accountable for misconduct, using the right amount of force, and treating racial and ethnic groups equally.

Around a third of Americans said the police were doing an excellent or good job treating racial and ethnic groups equally, compared with 47% who said the same in a September 2016 Pew poll. Another 31% thought the police did an excellent or good job holding officers accountable for misconduct, compared with 44% four years ago. A little more than a third (35%) reported that the police around the country use the right amount of force in a given situation, down from 45% who said so in 2016.

There are large gaps by race in rating how the police are doing, with significantly fewer Blacks saying the police are doing an excellent or good job than Whites across the board. Just 9% of Black adults say police around the country are good at treating racial and ethnic groups equally, compared with 42% of Whites.

The police get their highest ratings on protecting people from crime — 58% said they’re doing an excellent or good job in 2020, down slightly from 62% in 2016.

A large majority of Americans support several reforms to policing policies tested in the poll, including 74% who favor making it a crime for the police to use chokeholds or strangleholds, with 57% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in support and 88% of Democrats and leaners. Almost 9 in 10 (87%) Blacks favor the proposal, versus 75% of Hispanics and 71% of Whites.

The other policy proposals tested are favored by the majority of Americans, including requiring the police to be trained in nonviolent alternatives to deadly force (92% favor), creating a federal government database to track officers accused of misconduct (90%), giving civilian oversight boards power to investigate and discipline officers (75%), and requiring officers to live in the places they police (74%).

Two-thirds (66%) of Americans agreed that “civilians need to have the power to sue police officers in order to hold them accountable for excessive use of force or misconduct,” while 32% said “police officers need to be protected against lawsuits that may be brought by civilians who accuse them of excessive force or misconduct.”

A majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents supported all police reform proposals tested, except for the ability to sue officers for use of excessive force. Republicans supported most policy reforms in lesser numbers than Democrats and leaners, with around a 30-percentage-point gap in support for oversight boards and making chokeholds or strangleholds illegal.

A slim majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (53%) said police officers need to be protected against lawsuits that may be brought accusing them of excessive force or misconduct, while 84% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents believe civilians should be able to sue police officers to hold them accountable.

Black Americans were much more likely to support policy proposals to reform the police than Whites or Hispanics, including 86% of Blacks favoring a civilian’s right to sue police officers, compared with 75% of Hispanic Americans and 60% of Whites.

The Pew Research Center poll was conducted June 16 through 22 among a random national sample of 4,708 Americans reached online via the American Trends Panel. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 1.8 percentage points.

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