Most Americans Want Police Reform But Don't Back 'Defund The Police'

Most of the public, including Republicans, think there needs to be some reform, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds.

A near-universal majority of Americans support at least some changes to policing in the United States following the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds. There is majority support for proposals circulating in Congress to ban chokeholds and make it easier to track and charge officers accused of misconduct.

But the idea of “defunding the police” has little support from the public. It is by far the least popular of the policies surveyed, and is the only proposal opposed by more Americans than support it. Activists who are pushing the idea argue the criminal justice system is too corrupt and racist to reform, but it has largely been rejected by most Democratic Party politicians.

House and Senate Democrats unveiled their police reform legislation, crafted primarily by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, earlier this week. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has voiced support for many of the legislation’s provisions.

The HuffPost/YouGov survey shows that the bill’s provisions ― including ending qualified immunity, which protects police officers from civil lawsuits, and developing a national standard for when police officers can use force ― are broadly popular. Democrats expect a majority of the House to line up behind the legislation by the end of the week.

President Donald Trump and Republicans, who control the Senate, have tasked their only Black member, Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), with developing their own police reform proposal.

Just 7% of Americans describe the country’s police system as basically sound and requiring essentially no changes, the HuffPost/YouGov survey finds, with another 37% saying it’s basically sound but needs some improvement. Another 48% say it’s “not too sound” or “not sound at all.”

Views are divided along both partisan and racial lines, with a plurality of both Democrats and Black Americans saying that the system is not sound at all and requires significant changes. But even among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, only 11% say no changes are necessary.

Republicans do have less appetite for significant reforms. About three-fifths of Republicans say the system needs just “some” improvement, while only 24% see a need for “many improvements” or “significant changes.”

Results of a new HuffPost/YouGov survey on police reform.
Results of a new HuffPost/YouGov survey on police reform.
Ariel Edwards-Levy/HuffPost

The idea of “defunding the police” has attracted significant attention ― roughly half of Americans said they’d heard of it recently. Of the 10 proposals mentioned in the survey, only the call to ban police from using chokeholds has received more attention.

But the idea of defunding is also by far the least popular, with just 27% of Americans in favor. By contrast, solid majorities of the public favor banning police chokeholds (73% support this), creating a federal registry for complaints against officers (72%), developing a national standard for police use of force (69%), making it easier for the federal government to charge officers for using excessive force (68%), assigning independent prosecutors to handle cases where officers use fatal force (67%) and eliminating officers’ “qualified immunity” against misconduct lawsuits (59%).

There’s more modest support for barring the use of “no-knock” warrants in drug cases (49%) and for limiting the transfer of military equipment to police departments (46%). The public is almost evenly divided on a proposal to cut the budget of their local police department, and instead increase spending on services like social workers and mental health professionals.

Results of a new HuffPost/YouGov survey on police reform.
Results of a new HuffPost/YouGov survey on police reform.
Ariel Edwards-Levy/HuffPost

Self-described liberals support defunding the police by a 13-point margin. But nearly every other ideological and demographic group opposes it. Democrats and Democratic leaners oppose it by a 4-percentage point margin, and Black Americans oppose it by a 20-point margin.

Whites and Republicans are more firmly opposed still, and additional divides emerge along educational and generational lines, with older Americans and those without postgraduate degrees more likely to be opposed.

Results of a new HuffPost/YouGov survey on police reform.
Results of a new HuffPost/YouGov survey on police reform.
Ariel Edwards-Levy/HuffPost

The growing calls to defund the police have brought with them a debate over how literally the slogan is meant to be taken. For many proponents, “defunding the police” means substantially cutting police budgets to reinvest the money in other forms of public safety. Others hope for an end goal of abolishing police departments entirely.

Few Americans view the proposal as a call for getting rid of police departments. Asked to pick between a set of statements to describe the policy, only 19% defined it as “completely abolishing police forces,” while a 56% majority saw it as a proposal to significantly decrease the size of police forces and the scope of their work. Another quarter were unsure.

Biden has said he doesn’t support defunding the police, but Republicans are hoping to tie him and other Democrats to the concept.

On Thursday, Trump’s campaign released an ad claiming that Biden “fails to stand up to the radical leftists fighting to defund or even abolish the police.”

Trump has had some success convincing his base that Biden holds a position he does not actually hold. GOP voters are significantly likelier than Democratic voters to think that Biden and Democratic legislators support the idea of defunding the police.

Just 28% of registered voters say they think Biden supports defunding the police, with 41% saying he does not, and nearly one-third unsure. Four in 10 voters think that most or all congressional Democrats support defunding the police, with a third of voters saying some or none do, and the rest not certain.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted June 8-10 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some but not all potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate.

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