Protests have once again flared up in the United States after Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old black man, was left partially paralyzed after being shot seven times by a police officer during an arrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Justice Department announced that it will be launching a civil rights investigation into the incident, and many took to the streets in Kenosha to protest against what they see as another example of police brutality.

However, polling conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies last week found that strong pluralities or majorities in the key election swing states of Arizona (52%), Florida (51%), Michigan (47%), North Carolina (48%), Pennsylvania (49%), and Wisconsin (62%) think that the crowds that gathered in Kenosha following the shooting of Jacob Blake were primarily rioters and agitators rather than peaceful protestors.

At the countrywide level, half (50%) of the US public think that the crowds in Wisconsin were primarily formed of rioters and agitators, while a quarter (25%) believe that the crowds were predominantly protestors.

Over 250 people were arrested during the course of events in Kenosha, with fires and other scenes of destruction captured across the city. Likewise, a 17-year-old police admirer was charged with killing two protestors and injuring another as right and left wing militias clashed on the streets.

Pluralities of every age group (43-55%) think that the crowds gathered in Kenosha were primarily rioters and agitators, but our poll did find significant divisions along party lines: the vast majority (81%) of those who intend to vote for Donald Trump in the upcoming election think that the groups in Wisconsin were predominantly rioters, compared to just 28% of those who intend to vote for Joe Biden.

With a significant majority in Wisconsin (62%) expressing scepticism that the crowds formed in Kenosha should be labelled as peaceful protestors, our poll found that 27% of Wisconsin respondents approved and 37% disapprove of how Democratic Governor Tony Evers has handled both the shooting of Jacob Blake and also the events that followed the shooting. Respondents intending to vote for Biden were more likely (45%) to approve of Evers’ handling than respondents intending to vote for Trump (only 9% approved).

Evers had a mixed response to the crisis, releasing a statement condemning the shooting of Jacob Blake and promising police reform, while at the same time calling up the National Guard and imposing a strict curfew. As per Trump’s critique of Democrat Governors being too “weak” to “dominate” the streets, it is possible that the high levels of disapprove for Evers’ handling could come from the belief that he has not done enough to stop the tide of violence, or that his response did not acknowledge the seriousness of the police brutality situation.

Nationally, only 13% think that local politicians in Wisconsin are most to blame for events in Kenosha. Approximately a fifth (22%) of respondents think that Donald Trump is most to blame for the events that have taken place in Kenosha, whereas another fifth (20%) think Black Lives Matter is most to blame. Across the six key swing states, there is variation: in Arizona and Florida, respondents were equally likely to blame Trump as they were to blame Black Lives Matter. In Michigan, respondents were slightly more likely to blame Trump (26%) than Black Lives Matter (21%), while in North Carolina respondents were slightly more likely to blame Black Lives Matter (23%) rather than President Trump (18%). Crucially, in Wisconsin, 29% of respondents think Black Lives Matter is most to blame for the events occurring in Kenosha while a fifth (19%) blame Trump the most and 12% blame local politicians.

Estimates for the cost of damage to both public and private properties caused by protestors in Kenosha stand at $50 million. We found that the vast majority of voters, both nationally (78%) and in the swing states (70-86%), agree that the destruction of property constitutes violence, with only very small minorities disagreeing (5-13%).

Widespread condemnation of the destruction of property is palpable across party lines, with the majority of both likely Trump voters and likely Biden voters agreeing that property destruction constitutes violence.

A major claim of the protestors is that the shooting of Jacob Blake is yet another example of rampant institutional racism in law enforcement, rather than merely one bad actor within a largely benevolent force. However, most of the population appears sceptical that malpractice is widespread; the majority of respondents nationally (73%) and in all of the swing states (70-83%) agree that the vast majority of police officers are good, but a few bad apples give them a bad reputation, with only a small minority (8-13%) disagreeing.

A strong plurality (46%-57%) in each of the swing states do not think their state police force is institutionally racist. Florida expressed higher perceptions of institutional racism than most with approximately a third of Floridian voters (32%) thinking their police force is institutionally racist compared to approximately a fifth (15%-22%) in other swing states polled.

However, at a national level, the same proportions believe that police forces across the United States are institutionally racist (37%) as those who think they are not (37%).

Perceptions of institutional racism show significant divisions along party lines: the majority of likely 2020 Trump voters (65%) think that the police in the US is not institutionally racist. Meanwhile, 53% of likely Biden voters think the police in the US is institutionally racist.

The majority at a national level (54%) and strong pluralities or majorities in the swing states (47-75%) disagree with the calls to defund the police force.

Protests in the United States have been ongoing since the death of George Floyd in May, with no obvious end in sight. While a significant number of voters think that Donald Trump is the most to blame for the recent events in Kenosha, the plurality in all of the swing states (38-48%) as well as nationally (37%), do not think that the riots that have occurred across the United States will end if Donald Trump loses the election in November.

There are two potential explanations for why Americans expect riots to continue across the US even if Donald Trump loses the Presidential election. The first is that American voters see the riots as a form of violence, and they believe Trump is the leader most likely to guarantee law and order, and therefore the situation will become more chaotic if he loses. The second explanation is that deaths of black people at the hands of the police force have been occurring since before Trump was President, and thus there is no reason why Trump losing the election would put an end to the deaths that trigger these protests.

Despite Donald Trump pitching himself (and the Republican Party) as the ‘law and order’ option, the plurality in Arizona (42%), Florida (43%), Michigan (46%), and Pennsylvania (41%) think that Democrats would enact the best policies on policing and security at a state level. In North Carolina, voters are split between the Democrats and Republicans (38% each). In Wisconsin, the results are also close, with 41% favouring the Republicans and 39% favouring the Democrats.

These results come after Biden’s speech in Pittsburgh on the 31st of August, where he condemned rioting and looting and criticised the current disorder in Trump’s America. When it comes to the national level, a plurality (44%) also think the Democrats would enact the best policies for the United States while over a third (37%) think that the Republicans would do the best job in this area.

voters may not be convinced he is the one who will be able to restore the peace.Overall, most voters in key swing states and nationally do not think the police force is institutionally racist, nor do they support calls to defund the police. Many view the crowds on the streets as primarily agitators and rioters, and they firmly believe that the destruction of property is a form of violence. Such strong opinions on the riots and events in Kenosha leave room for a ‘law and order’ candidate, but despite Donald Trump’s efforts, voters are not convinced he is the one who will be able to restore the peace.

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.

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