America’s Hidden Common Ground on Race and Police Reform

June 29, 2020

America’s Hidden Common Ground on Race 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.

The Hidden Common Ground Initiative™ challenges the increasingly dominant narrative of a hopelessly divided America by identifying and elevating the areas where Americans agree on politically polarized issues and by fostering productive dialogue on those areas where we truly disagree.

Hidden Common Ground 2020 is the latest and most exciting iteration of our HCG initiative. Throughout the presidential election season it will involve public opinion research on major issues, innovative journalism and commentary, broad-based public engagement, “Strange Bedfellows” storytelling, and community-based dialogues and events. It is supported by a diverse group of foundations, including the Carnegie Corporation of New Yorkthe John S. and James L. Knight Foundationthe Charles Koch Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, as well as through the generosity of individual donors. In addition, the Kettering Foundation is a research partner of the initiative.

Divisiveness and Collaboration in America is the first research publication of our Hidden Common Ground 2020 partnership.

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Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos Hidden Common GroundTM Survey Seeks Solutions on Race and Police Reform in America

Survey Finds Areas of Agreement that Cross Political and Racial Lines

New York, NY (June 29, 2020) — Recent murders of Black men and women have intensified an overdue examination of the role race plays in almost every aspect of our history and contemporary society. In order to further understand where Americans stand in the wake of these killings and how they want to move forward with substantive change, the June 2020 Public Agenda Hidden Common GroundTM/USA Today/Ipsos snapshot survey, “Hidden Common Ground: Race and Police Reform in America” asked 1,113 adults about a range of topics related to police reform and race in America. The survey was conducted between June 18-22, 2020.

The survey found that most Americans want at least some change to policing or law enforcement, including 55% of Americans who want major change or to redesign it completely. Very few Americans, just 7%, want the current policing system to stay the same. 

The research shows that there is significant common ground, across partisan and racial lines, on a number of important ways of addressing to the problem of police brutality against Black Americans, as well as several areas where there are disagreements that we, as a nation, need to discuss,” said Will Friedman, President of Public Agenda “We hope the findings contribute to the profound reckoning the country is undergoing around race, policing, and equal justice.”

Four in five Democrats (81%) and Black or African Americans (79%) and Hispanic Americans (70%) want major changes or a complete redesign of current policing and law enforcement practices, nearly double the share of Independents (46%) or white Americans (47%) and more than three times the share of Republicans (26%).

The long-troubled relationship between police and Black citizens in communities has been under particular scrutiny in recent months. 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. However, there are differences in how groups view this bias, whether it is part of a larger, systemic problem or the actions of outliers within police ranks. 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%) and Black or African Americans (68%).  But two thirds of Republicans (66%) and a plurality of white Americans (43%) say the vast majority of police officers treat everyone fairly regardless of race.

“There is significant agreement across the political spectrum and across racial/ethnic groups on several measures to reduce police use of excessive force against Black Americans,” said David Schleifer, Vice President and Director of Research at Public Agenda. “These findings tell us that there are concrete, positive police reform steps on which a high percentage of Americans agree.”

A variety of transparency measures appeal 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 support officers wearing and using body cameras when on duty (94% of Republicans, 91% of Democrats, and 86% of Independents; 92% of white Americans, 87% of Black or African Americans). Around nine in ten Democrats (92%) and Republicans (91%) and 84% of Independents support the idea of community policing, in which police officers work closely with communities to understand their concerns and to find ways to protect public safety together. Nearly all white and Black or African Americans would support this as well (90% and 89%, respectively).

The debate over police department budgets was one area where the Public Agenda survey found  stark differences of opinion. A third of Americans (35%) say money should be diverted from police budgets to social services such as social workers, addiction services or job training. But a third of Americans (34%) say police budgets should be increased to increase the number of officers and to provide more training. The rest either say  police budgets should stay the same or do not know. More Black or African Americans (57%) than white (29%) Americans think money should be diverted from police budgets to social services., with Hispanic Americans falling in between. In terms of party divisions, just over half of Democrats (56%) support diverting money from police budgets to social services, while just over half of Republicans (54%) and a third of Independents (34%) think police budgets should increase.

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.

Read the full report: Hidden Common Ground: Race and Police Reform in America 

Read Public Agenda’s recent statement on racial equity and healthy democracies.

Hidden Common Ground is an initiative spearheaded by Public Agenda and USA Today and whose partners include America Amplified, the National Issues Forum, Ipsos, and Vote.org. It is supported by a diverse group of foundations, including the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, as well as by individual donors. The Kettering Foundation serves as a research partner to the initiative. The aim is to explore the possibility that there is more common ground among the public on solutions to today’s issues than is typically acknowledged and leveraged for the common good, and, to the extent this is true, to elevate that common ground in the public discourse during the election year. Forthcoming Hidden Common Ground 2020 studies will explore race and policing, immigration, voting, and economic opportunity. 

About Public Agenda

Public Agenda is a nonpartisan research and public engagement organization dedicated to a healthy, just, and effective democracy. We support informed citizens, engaged communities, and responsive public institutions. We also elevate diverse voices, build common ground and foster progress on issues of concern to the American public. These include K-12 education, higher education, health care, economic opportunity, and democracy reform. Find Public Agenda online at PublicAgenda.org, and on social media at FB@publicagenda/Twitter@publicagenda/Instagram@publicagenda_.

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