USA Today published the results of a new poll on the public’s support for Black Lives Matter and for police. The poll found that support for BLM is still down from the highs it briefly saw last summer. Meanwhile trust in local police is up substantially. But there’s a hitch, and you can probably guess what it is. Black and white Americans view these issues very differently. In fact, the two are almost a mirror image at this point.
Last June, amid accusations of systemic racism in law enforcement, 60% of Americans expressed trust in the Black Lives Matter movement to promote justice and equal treatment of people, compared with 56% who trusted local police to do that.
Now, however, attitudes have shifted significantly. Trust in Black Lives Matter has fallen to 50%; trust in local police and law enforcement has risen to 69%.
Black Americans and white Americans now express very different views: 75% of Black people but just 42% of white people express trust in Black Lives Matter, while 77% of white people but just 42% of Black people trust local police.
But perhaps the most interesting finding in this survey is that support for BLM has dropped more among Black Americans than white Americans. Similarly, trust in police has gone up slightly more among Black Americans than among whites.
Among Black respondents, trust in Black Lives Matter has fallen by 12 points and trust in local police has risen by 14 points. Among white respondents, trust in Black Lives Matter has fallen by 8 points and trust in local police has risen by 12 points.
It’s worth noting that decline in support for BLM isn’t new. Last August, just about three months after the death of George Floyd, the Washington Post wrote that support for BLM had dropped:
The Marquette University Law School poll in mid-June showed residents supported the Black Lives Matter movement by a 61 percent to 38 percent margin. But by earlier this month, those numbers had evened out — 48-48…
The results were similar to a Yahoo/YouGov poll from late July, which showed views of Black Lives Matter at 47 percent positive and 48 percent negative overall. It also showed the movement underwater among Whites, 41 percent to 51 percent.
The decline was less severe in an NPR poll this week, but they also showed lower support than previous polls. The poll showed Americans overall supported the Black Lives Matter movement by a 51-30 margin, but White Americans were just 47-41 in favor.
All of these polls found the drop came particularly among white Americans with little change among Black Americans. In September, Pew Research found a similar drop:
A majority of U.S. adults (55%) now express at least some support for the movement, down from 67% in June amid nationwide demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd. The share who say they strongly support the movement stands at 29%, down from 38% three months ago.
Once again, Pew found support for BLM among Black Americans had actually gone up one point compared to June. The drop in support for BLM came among whites, Hispanics and Asians.
One thing everyone agrees on in the USA Today poll: Race relations have gotten worse.
the percentage of those who say race relations have worsened in the United States over the past year is nearly four times the number who say they have improved, 40% versus 13%. Among Black respondents, the gap is even wider; 54% say race relations have worsened; just 10% believe they have improved.
My take on this is that, like a lot of polling, the poll isn’t really measuring what it claims to be. Why did support for BLM jump to 65% last June? Because most people were upset by what they saw on the video of George Floyd’s death. They had an immediate visceral reaction to it. But with more time to think, there’s a disagreement over what they saw:
In the initial reaction, support for BLM basically meant you were against what happened. But within a few months it became clear that support for BLM also came with riots, looting and arson. A lot of people who had sided with BLM over the video, pulled back their support over those scenes of chaos. Support for BLM questions often come down to ‘do you like what you’re seeing on TV right now’ and not much more than that.
Again, the most interesting part of the new polling is the fact that black support has also dropped. That wasn’t true last summer and fall, even when white support for BLM was dropping.
Still, 75% of black Americans trust BLM while 77% of white Americans trust the police. That’s a big gap and it means every future police shooting is going to continue to be made into a kind of racial proxy battle in the media. I don’t see how that makes anything better for anyone or how those numbers even change. BLM may briefly gain support from highlight a particular outrage (often out of context) but eventually people step back from that one incident and support for the group drops. This cycle which began with very misleading media accounts of the death of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown could continue for many years to come.