Just how does America feel about the death of George Floyd, the protests that resulted from it, and the police response to the riots that followed in their wake? Surprisingly nuanced, if today’s poll from the Washington Post gives an accurate indication.
In the six years since a series of deaths of black men at the hands of police, a supermajority of Americans now see Floyd’s homicide as indicative of a endemic issue in policing rather than an isolated issue. And an even larger percentage want changes in policing to deal with equality issues when policing black communities. On the other hand, a wide plurality of Americans think police got too soft on rioters, and a bare majority believe they have handled the lawful protests properly.
The Post starts off with a discussion of Donald Trump’s approval rating on handling the protests (35/61), and then move into partisan demos on the protests themselves:
Overall, 74 percent of Americans say they support the protests that have been carried out in cities and towns across the country since the May 25 killing of Floyd, which occurred after police held him on the ground and one officer pressed his knee to the victim’s neck for nearly nine minutes. “I can’t breathe,” Floyd said as he died.
The recent demonstrations have bipartisan appeal, with 87 percent of Democrats saying they support them, along with 76 percent of independents. Among Republicans, the majority — 53 percent — also back the protests.
The widespread support for the protests comes amid mixed views of whether those events have been mostly peaceful or mostly violent. On that question, Americans are evenly divided, with 43 percent saying the protests have been mostly peaceful and an identical percentage describing them as mostly violent. Thirteen percent say the protests have been equally peaceful and violent.
Views on this split along ideological and partisan lines: Most liberals (70 percent) and Democrats (56 percent) say the protests were mostly peaceful, while most conservatives (60 percent) and Republicans (65 percent) say they were largely violent. Independents are split similarly to the country overall, with 44 percent saying the protests were mostly peaceful, 42 percent mostly violent.
Even that has some nuance:
Strikingly, among those who say the protests were mostly violent, 53 percent support the nationwide demonstrations while 46 percent oppose them. Among those who said protests have been largely peaceful, 91 percent support them.
Why might that be? Probably because most Americans know how to distinguish between protests and riots, even if some rioters can’t tell the difference. Few if any would watch the video of Floyd being slowly choked to death and then oppose demonstrations demanding accountability. Even if violence resulted, people can easily distinguish the violence from the protests, and would normally expect the police to distinguish between the two as well.
That brings us to a very nuanced result from this poll. Although the Post doesn’t really feature these questions, the pair produce one of the most interesting results in the survey. Americans narrowly split on how police have handled the peaceful protests, with 50% saying “about right” and 44% saying “too much force.” This produces wide partisan splits — 38/58 among Democrats, 71/19 among Republicans — but take a look at the urban/suburban split:
- Urban – 46/48
- Suburban — 54/40
- Rural — 54/38
One has to wonder where the Democrats are finding 58% who think the police are using too much force on the peaceful protesters. Compare these results with those on a question about the level of force on rioters and looters, which are even more interesting. An overall plurality of 47% believe police didn’t use enough force on violent actors, with only 16% believing they used too much and 34% “about right.” Few demographics thought police used too much force on rioters and looters, but almost every demo thought they didn’t use enough — except Democrats, who split 37% “about right,” 36% not enough force, and 24% too much force.
Again, compare that with some other demos, in the same relative order:
- Men – 33/53/12
- Women — 36/41/20
- White — 34/50/13
- Non-white — 35/41/22
- Urban — 37/43/18
- Suburban — 33/51/13
- Rural — 24/50/23
- Northeast — 40/44/15
- Midwest — 37/44/17
- South — 33/47/18
- West — 30/50/15
The Post uses a number of age demos, but the only one that closely parallels the Democrats’ response to this is the 18-29YO demo (37/37/24). Every other age demo tilts towards criticism of the police response to the violence as too timid, and that becomes majorities in the two oldest demos in the poll — the demos that most reliably turn out to vote.
We’re still quite a ways away from the election, of course, and these attitudes might not be primarily in mind when choosing candidates. However, it does make it look like defunding or dismantling police departments will be a big loser for Democrats if they keep pushing that agenda all the way to November. Americans want police to treat African-Americans with equality — and still step up and do their jobs to protect their entire communities, too.