The recent death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin has shaken the nation and, indeed, the world. His death—recorded on video, and widely disseminated—is a stirring example of violent and excessive behavior by police in the United States and has led to widespread protests across the United States and even other countries. In a poll conducted this week by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, we found 88% of respondents reporting having seen the footage of George Floyd’s death.
Nearly, four in five members of the public reported following the latest news surrounding the death of George Floyd ‘very closely’ or ‘regularly,’ further illustrating the widespread attention this event has received.
Overwhelmingly, 82% think that what Police Officer Chauvin did to George Floyd amounts to murder. Only 9% said they do not believe it amounts to murder, with a further 10% saying they don’t know. Among likely Trump voters, 76% believe that it amounts to murder.
Furthermore, another overwhelming 85% of American respondents approve of the decision to arrest Police Officer Chauvin and the other three police officers involved in Floyd’s death. Only 6% of respondents said they disapprove of the decision to arrest them.
Despite this widespread condemnation of George Floyd’s death as murder across the political spectrum, public opinion is less decisively in favor of the protests that have been taking place following the death of George Floyd. Although a majority of respondents (52%) do approve of the protests, a significant 27% disapprove. Likely Trump voters appear somewhat divided, with 35% approving and 46% disapproving.
It is nevertheless noteworthy that 35% of likely Trump voters approve of the protests, whereas 17% of likely Biden voters disapprove of them. This variation suggests that a significant proportion of both Trump and Biden supporters might find themselves at odds with their preferred candidate and other fellow supporters, potentially creating an opening for either candidate to attract support from their rival in the presidential race.
When thinking about the goals of the protestors and the extent to which they can meet them through protest, a plurality believes the protests have been productive (47%), but there is again a significant 39% that sees them as unproductive in responding to the death of George Floyd and the broader issues his death has raised.
In fact, respondents seem to oppose proposals to scale back police presence, expressing disagreement with the rallying call of the protests to “defund the police.” Only 28% of respondents agree with calls to “defund the police,” including only 36% of likely Biden voters. Conversely, 43% of the public disagrees with calls to “defund the police,” including 60% of likely Trump voters and 35% of likely Biden voters. For the most part, therefore, the striking slogan to “defund the police” does not have the support of the American public.
The public may be somewhat more likely to support the blanket call to “defund the police” when a more specific suggestion is made to them. When asked whether they approve of the recent announcement by the Minneapolis City Council expressing its intent to disband the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a ‘community-led’ safety program, 37% approves and 35% disapproved of the decision. Although a degree of polarization is evident here, the 37% who approve the disbanding of the Minneapolis Police Department is a greater proportion than the 28% who agreed with the more general call to “defund the police.”
In terms of the egregious behavior of some members of the public on the streets, 80% say they would consider the destruction of property to be violence. This considerable response is a rebuke to the few commentators who have dismissed the destruction of businesses, stores, cars and other property by rioters as technically non-violent due to there being no damage to the physical well-being of individuals.
Nevertheless, when we asked respondents whether all protesters are responsible for those among them who engage in such behavior as the destruction of property, the majority (59%) disagreed. About a third of respondents believe all protesters are responsible for the violent behavior of some of them. Among likely Trump voters, there is a sharp division, with 48% agreeing and 48% disagreeing that all protesters should be responsible for the actions of the disruptors who join their ranks. Among likely Biden voters, only 27% thought all protesters should be seen as collectively responsible for the actions of other protesters.
Moreover, most Americans appear to give the benefit of the doubt to both police officers and protesters, subscribing to what is known as the “bad apples” theory. According to this theory, the vast majority of police officers and/or protestors are good, but a few “bad apples” give them a bad reputation. Our poll finds that 77% of respondents agree that the vast majority of police officers are good, but a few bad apples give them a bad reputation. Only 9% of respondents disagree with this statement. Agreement with the “bad apples” view crosses political lines; 91% of likely Trump voters and 71% of likely Biden voters agree with the statement.
We then asked respondents the same question about protesters, and we found that 78% of respondents agree that the vast majority of protesters are good, but a few bad apples give them a bad reputation. Once again, support for this statement crossed political lines, with 87% of likely Biden voters and 72% of likely Trump voters expressing agreement.
Thus, we see that Americans are largely generous in their view of both police officers and protesters. This generous view comes even when members of the public claim to have seen violent and aggressive behavior by the police towards members of the public and members of the public towards the police.
Along the lines of this generous view, our poll found that the majority of respondents do not think the behaviour of Police Officer Chauvin and the other three officers is largely representative of the police in the United States (53%). Conversely, 38% of respondents said they do think their behavior is largely representative of the police in the United States.
Looking more broadly at policing in general, a not insignificant 21% of respondents disagreed that a greater police presence ensures a more peaceful society in comparison to 47% percent who agreed with the statement. Again, support for the idea that a greater police presence ensures a more peaceful society is sharply divided along party lines, with 72% of likely Trump voters expressing agreement with this view, compared to a modest 35% of likely Biden voters.
Respondents were more likely to agree than disagree that President Trump’s call for ‘law and order’ resonated with them, with 46% of respondents agreeing and 31% disagreeing. Whereas only 1% of likely Trump voters disagree with the President’s call, a significant 19% of likely Biden voters say they resonate with the President’s call for ‘law and order’ in the United States.
Likewise, a small, modest majority of respondents expresses agreement with a statement suggesting that they feel safe when they see a police office. It must nevertheless be noted that, again, a not insignificant 20% of respondents disagree.
We therefore see in the United States widespread common ground where the public wants to see justice for George Floyd and is willing to give both protesters and the police the benefit of the doubt. At the same time, a sizable minority has concerns about the state of policing in the United States. On the other hand, there are considerable mixed feelings the protests that have followed Floyd’s death—particularly in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, which has not gone away at all.
Indeed, a key concern for many respondents will be the coronavirus pandemic, which is still ongoing. Our poll found that two-thirds of respondents think the protesters are not taking the threat of coronavirus seriously (63%). This includes 80% of likely Trump voters and 56% of likely Biden voters.
If there comes a corresponding rise in the number of coronavirus cases in the United States in the coming weeks, such a change will likely shift opinion against the protestors. After all, it is quite distressing and confusing to see, after months of staying inside and avoiding crowds, large crowds in major cities across the United States and elsewhere. Even as this latest national controversy has drawn attention away from the pandemic, many people remain rightfully afraid of the coronavirus. More polling to come from Redfield & Wilton Strategies on this front.
To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.