America’s Hidden Common Ground on Racism and Police Reform: Results from a Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos snapshot survey
Most Americans want at least some change to policing or law enforcement.
- More than half of Americans want at least some change to policing or law enforcement, including 55% of Americans who want either major change or to redesign it completely. Just 7% of Americans want it to stay the same.
- Clear pluralities across the political spectrum want to see some change, but there are differences in how much change various groups think is needed: 81% of Democrats want major changes or a complete redesign of current policing and law enforcement practices, nearly double the share of Independents (46%) and more than three times the share of Republicans (26%).
- The vast majority of Black or African Americans (79%) and Hispanic Americans (70%) want major changes or a complete redesign of current policing and law enforcement practices, compared to 47% of white Americans.
More than half of Americans say racial bias by police is a serious problem in their community.
- Most Americans (58%) say racial bias against Black or African Americans committed by police and law enforcement is a serious problem in their community, including 75% of Democrats and 51% of Independents as well as 40% of Republicans. More younger people (49% of 18 to 34-year-olds) see this as very serious problem, compared to only a third of people 35 and older (33% of 35-54-year-olds and 27% of those 55 years and older).
- More than 79% of Black Americans say that racial bias against Black or African Americans committed by the police in their community is a serious problem compared to 54% of white Americans and 61% of Hispanic Americans who say so.
- One third of Americans (36%) feel that police using excessive force against Black or African Americans is a widespread problem within policing and law enforcement, including most Democrats (58%). By contrast, most Republicans (66%) say the vast majority of police officers treat everyone fairly regardless of race.
- Similarly, 68% of Black Americans feel that police using excessive force against Black or African Americans is a widespread problem within policing and law enforcement, as do 49% of Hispanic Americans. But a plurality of white Americans (43%) say the vast majority of police officers treat everyone fairly regardless of race.
- Most Americans (71%) say that disrespect of police officers is a serious problem, with somewhat more Republicans (83%) than Democrats (63%) saying so and with Independents falling in-between (75%).
Americans almost universally believe that police officers who use excessive violence should be not be permitted to stay on duty, but they differ in the severity of punishment they think those officers deserve.
- Very few Americans (only 4%) favor keeping a police officer on duty after they have been found to have used excessive force.
- The punitive measures for police that people think are most appropriate differ by political affiliation. Nearly half of Democrats (48%) think a police officer who has been found to have used excessive force after a review should be fired and lawsuits should be allowed to be filed against them. Few Independents (27%) and Republicans (16%) think that is the appropriate response.
- Pluralities of Black (44%), Hispanic (38%) and white (30%) Americans think a police officer who has been found to have used excessive force after a review should be fired and lawsuits should be allowed to be filed against them.
- More Americans would trust an independent citizen-led oversight committee to address the problem of unfair treatment of Black or African Americans by police and law enforcement than any other entity that this survey asked about. A 63% majority of Democrats would trust such an independent committee most. But a 49% plurality of Republicans would trust a police-led oversight committee. Independents are split between trusting a mayor or city council (39%), an independent committee (39%), and the state government (35%).
There is significant common ground across the political spectrum and across racial/ethnic groups on several measures to reduce police use of excessive force against Black Americans, including increasing transparency and data collection, de-escalation and anti-bias training, recruiting more Black officers, and community policing.
- Majorities of Democrats (91%), Republicans (77%) and Independents (70%) support requiring all officers to undergo training on de-escalation tactics to avoid the use of force, as would similarly large majorities of Black, Hispanic and white Americans. Large majorities across the political spectrum and across racial/ethnic groups also support requiring all officers to undergo training on how to be less racially biased.
- Most Americans across the political spectrum and across racial/ethnic groups also support recruiting more Black or African Americans to become police officers.
- Transparency appeals to most Americans, including creating a public database of officers who have used excessive force to stop them from being rehired elsewhere and requiring public reporting of all incidents of force within 72 hours. Nearly all Americans across the political spectrum and across racial/ethnic groups support officers wearing and using body cameras (94% of Republicans, 91% of Democrats, and 86% of Independents; 92% of white Americans, 87% of Black Americans, 88% of Hispanic Americans).
- Strong common ground emerges across the political spectrum on community policing. Around nine in ten Democrats (92%) and Republicans (91%) and 84% of Independents would support police officers working closely with communities to understand their concerns and to find ways to protect public safety together. Nearly all white (90%), Black (89%) and Hispanic Americans (84%) would support community policing as well.
More than half of Americans support reconstituting police forces with retrained officers, but Americans are divided on demilitarization and restricting guns.
- Most Americans (60%) would support requiring all police officer to reapply for their jobs, hiring only the most qualified and training them in deescalating violence and avoiding racial bias. This includes 74% of Democrats and around half of Independents (51%) and Republicans (47%).
- More Hispanic (71%) and Black Americans (69%) would support requiring police officers to re-apply and re-train than white Americans, though more than half of white Americans (56%) would support that proposal.
- Support for prohibiting police departments from buying or using military grade weapons is more modest and divided: 50% of Americans overall would support this, including 70% of Democrats but only 29% of Republicans. Independents fall in between the two main parties at 47%.
- Differences by race in support for demilitarization are smaller than differences by political affiliation. More Black than white Americans would support prohibiting police departments from buying or using military-grade weapons (65% vs. 47%) with Hispanic American support (52%) at about the same level as white support.
- Few Americans (36%) support restricting guns to officers in select units only. This includes significantly more Democrats (53%), than Republicans (19%) or Independents (28%). More 18- to 34-year-olds (57%) support restricting guns than Americans ages 35 to 54 (only 37%) or 55 years and older (only 19%).
- More Black than white Americans would also support restricting guns to officers in select units (50% vs. 31%) with Hispanic American support at about the same level as white support.
Americans are split on how to change police departments’ budgets and whether to reduce departments’ responsibilities in the community.
- Americans overall are split on how to change police budgets. About a third (35%) say money should be diverted from police budgets to social services such as social workers, addiction services or job training. But about a third (34%) also say those budgets should be increased to strengthen staffing and to provide more training to handle all the different things the police are asked to do. Another 17% of Americans say budgets should stay the same and 14% do not know.
- More Black (57%) than white (29%) Americans think money should be diverted from police budgets to social services, with Hispanic Americans fall in between. A 40% plurality of white Americans thinks police budget should be increased.
- In terms of party divisions, just over half of Democrats (56%) support diverting money from police budgets to social services, while a plurality of Republicans (54%) and a third of Independents (34%) think police budgets should increase. Age is also a factor, with 50% of 18- to 34-year-olds (57%) money should be diverted from police compared to 36% of Americans ages 35 to 54 and 22% of those ages 55 and older.
- Two-thirds of Americans (63%) support focusing police on investigating serious or violence crime rather than misdemeanor or deterrent activities. This includes almost half of Republicans (48%) and most Independents (60%) and Democrats (78%). Three quarters of Black (75%) and Hispanic Americans (72%) and a plurality of white Americans (56%) would also support focusing police on investigating serious or violence crime rather than misdemeanor or deterrent activities.
- Smaller majorities of Americans would support reducing police officers’ responsibilities. This includes 57% of Americans who support sending social workers and EMTs to respond to mental health, substance use, and domestic violence issues instead of police, 57% who support for social workers and counselors monitoring school safety instead of police, and 55% who support using technology instead of police to enforce traffic laws. All of these reductions in officers’ responsibilities are more popular among Democrats than Republicans by margins of 20 to 35 percentage points.
Beyond policing, most Americans think racism is a serious problem. Considerably more Democrats than Republicans see racism as a very serious and systemic problem.
- Three quarters of Americans (76%) think that racial bias against Black or African Americans in the United States in general is a serious problem. Nearly all Democrats (93%) say this, including 71% who see it as very A majority of Republicans (56%) and Independents (75%) also say it is a serious problem, though fewer see it as very serious (23% and 43% respectively).
- More Black Americans also see racial bias against Black or African Americans as very serious (75%) than white (42%) and Hispanic Americans (61%). This view is also more common among 18- to 34-year-olds than among people 35 and older.
- Around half of Americans (48%) say that racism is a problem of both how individuals treat each other and of how society functions. But a plurality of Republicans (43%) say it is mostly a problem of how individuals treat each other while most Democrats (59%) and Independents (54%) say it is both a problem of individual treatment and of how society functions.
- Pluralities across races/ethnicities say racism is a problem of both how individuals treat each other and of how society functions. This includes 58% of Hispanic Americans, 56% of Black Americans and 44% of white Americans.
These are the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between June 18-22, 2020 on behalf of Public Agenda and USA TODAY. For this survey, a sample of 1,113 adults age 18+ from the continental U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii was interviewed online in English. The poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points for all respondents.