Public Opinion Is On The Side Of The Protests. That's New.

But views about policing remain divided along partisan and racial lines, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds.
The current wave of protests, like this gathering outside St. Louis' City Justice Center on June 1, is generally supported by Americans.
The current wave of protests, like this gathering outside St. Louis' City Justice Center on June 1, is generally supported by Americans.
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Americans support the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds, with most viewing Floyd’s death as part of a pattern in police treatment of Black men ― a finding that reflects a shift in public opinion about the pervasiveness of racial discrimination in policing.

The public’s view of the police, however, remains broadly positive, though marked by sharp racial and political divides.

Half of Americans say they support the protests, while 27% are opposed, 17% are neutral and the remainder are unsure. Roughly three-quarters say they are angry about Floyd’s death. By a 27-percentage-point margin, Americans agree that Blacks and other minorities are not treated equally with whites by the criminal justice system. By a 17-point margin, they don’t agree that police in most cities treat Black residents as fairly as whites.

The poll was taken as protests mounted nationwide after a white police officer in Minneapolis killed Floyd, a Black man. (Questions about views of the police were asked beginning on Wednesday, May 27, while additional questions about the protests were asked beginning on Sunday, May 31.)

The results, which align with those of other recent surveys, are a sharp contrast to views expressed in the 1960s, when civil rights protests generally faced widespread disapprobation in the polls.

More than that, they suggest opinions may have changed within the last decade ― since 2014, when many Americans expressed disapproval of protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and 2017, when just 36% of Americans said it was appropriate for NFL players to kneel in protest during the national anthem.

The share of Americans who believe that police in most cities treat Black residents as fairly as white residents has dropped 10 points since February 2015, and the share who believe Black Americans and other minorities receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system is down by 13 points.

In February 2015, just 35% of Americans said that the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson the year prior was part of a broader pattern in the way the police treat Black men, rather than merely an isolated incident. In May of that year, 44% of Americans said that the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore was part of such a pattern. But in the most recent poll, 56% of Americans say that Floyd’s death was part of a pattern of behavior by the police. Black opinion has consistently been that the deaths were systemic; the shift is due largely to a change among the views of white Americans.

Trump Gets Negative Ratings. Views Of Police Are Generally Positive But Marked By Sharp Racial Divides.

About half of Americans, 49%, disapprove of President Donald Trump’s response to the protests, with 36% approving. Just 8% of Black Americans approve.

The response to the protests by former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s presumptive rival for the presidency this year, has gone comparatively unnoticed. Just 32% of Americans approve of his response, another 32% disapprove, and the remaining 36% aren’t sure.

Views of the police, meanwhile, remain broadly positive. A 61% majority of Americans have favorable opinions of police officers nationally, and about two-thirds view their local police favorably. Although most see police brutality as at least a somewhat serious problem nationally, just 30% believe there is police brutality in their area, with 34% saying there’s not and 36% unsure.

About half, 48%, say their personal experience with the police has been mostly good, 27% that it’s been mixed, and just 8% that it’s been mostly bad, with the rest unsure or having no experience with the police. Only a quarter say they are personally at all afraid of the police.

Those numbers are often underlaid by significant racial divides. Roughly three-quarters of Black Americans, for instance, call police brutality a very serious problem nationally, compared to 37% of white Americans who say the same. A 52% majority of Black Americans, versus 31% of white Americans, say their personal experience with the police has been mixed or mostly bad. An 83% majority of Black parents say they’ve warned their children to be careful when dealing with police, compared to about one-third of white parents who say the same.

A 45% plurality of Black Americans under age 45 say they’re afraid of the police, compared to 28% of older Black Americans who feel the same. The older group also holds more favorable opinions of their local police.

Views are also strongly divided along partisan lines. Although both Democrats and Republicans pronounce themselves angry about Floyd’s death, Republicans also say that his death is an isolated incident and that Black Americans are in general treated fairly by police.

Black and white supporters of the Democratic Party are about equally likely to back the protests. But racial divides remain on some questions. Black Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are 18 points likelier than their white counterparts to say they’ve had mixed or mostly bad experiences with the police, and are also 42 points likelier to say they’ve warned their kids to be careful when dealing with police. The number of Black Republicans was too small for similar analysis.

Results of a HuffPost/YouGov poll on policing and the racial injustice protests.
Results of a HuffPost/YouGov poll on policing and the racial injustice protests.
Ariel Edwards-Levy/HuffPost

What Other Polls Are Showing

  • Monmouth University: “Most Americans say the anger about black deaths at the hands of police officers that led to recent protests is fully justified, even if they do not feel the same about the actual actions. A majority of the public now agrees that the police are more likely to use excessive force with a black person than a white person in similar situations. Only one-third of the country held this opinion four years ago.”
  • CBS News: “As thousands protest, their message is getting across. Comparing views at this moment to decades of CBS News polling, today we see more people — both white and black — saying racial discrimination affects both treatment by police and chances of getting ahead. And a declining number see progress in getting rid of it. Where Americans had once shown increasing optimism about ending discrimination against blacks, those sentiments have turned downward lately, back toward levels we saw in the 1990s.”
  • Reuters/Ipsos: “A majority of Americans sympathize with nationwide protests over the death of an unarmed black man in police custody and disapprove of President Donald Trump’s response to the unrest...Americans are divided over the police response. According to the poll, 43% believed the police were doing a good job and 47% disagreed, with a majority of Democrats disagreeing and a majority of Republicans agreeing.”
  • Yahoo/YouGov: ”[A] a clear majority of U.S. adults (61 percent) believe race was a ‘major factor’ in the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in the custody of Minneapolis police who lost his life after officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd complained that he could not breathe. Only 9 percent said race was ‘not a factor.’”
  • Democratic pollster Civiqs, via Daily Kos: “Through June 2, 2020, 49% of Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement, with only 24% opposed. Support jumped by five percentage points in the last week alone, following George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police and the subsequent protests. This is the highest level of support for Black Lives Matter in over three years of daily tracking, and the most significant shift in racial attitudes since Civiqs began tracking the issue in April of 2017.”

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 2,829 completed interviews conducted May 27-June 3 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. Questions 8-15 in the survey were asked between May 31 and June 3 and have a sample size of 1,829.

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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