Amidst protests in Berlin and other cities following the death of George Floyd in the United States, our latest poll in Germany has found that 59% of German respondents have a positive view of the police in Germany, compared to only 12% who have a negative view.
A similar number (55%) of respondents agree that when they see a police officer they feel safe, compared to just 13% who say that they do not.
Views of the police differ somewhat between age groups but are all within a range of 50-66% approving. The highest level of discontent is expressed by young people with 20% of respondents aged 18-24 viewing the police negatively and 50% of them viewing the police positively. This is only 9 points below the average across age groups, showing that the political rift between age groups on this issue is minimal. Approval for the police was highest among 55-64 year olds, with 66% of them viewing the police positively.
Another key element of how respondents viewed the police was the political party they voted for in the last German Federal Election. Those who voted for parties which form the current coalition government, namely the CDU and SDP, supported the police the most with 69% and 70% having a positive view respectively. On the other hand, those who voted for less popular parties in 2017 such as AfD, Die Linke (The Left), and Alliance 90/The Greens had the lowest approval rates for the police at 48%, 53% and 55% respectively.
Despite the majority of Germans having a positive view of the police themselves, when asked about how they think most other people in Germany view the police, only 46% of respondents believe that the view of the majority is positive. This 13% gap between how people place their own approval of the police in relation to the majority of people in the country could be an indication that media coverage of Black Lives Matter protests may have over-emphasised the extent of discontent among the German public.
AfD campaigns for an increased police presence in Germany as well as tougher repercussions for migrants, winning itself supporters among the German police force and military. In light of the recent protests following the death of George Floyd, which were approved of by only 34% of respondents who voted for AfD in 2017 (compared to 63% of total respondents), prominent AfD politicians such as Stephan Brander and Alice Weidel cited the police’s loss of control as evidence that it is time to invest more in law and order. Therefore, the relatively lower positive opinion of the police among AfD voters is most likely not a result of them thinking the police is too powerful or unaccountable, but rather the reverse.
Die Linke voters on the other hand, seem to support an alternative security method. 73% of respondents who voted for Die Linke approved of protests following the death of George Floyd, which is higher than support among total respondents (63%). Respondents who voted for Die Linke in 2017 have below average support for the police with 53% saying they have a positive view of the police and 50% saying that whenever they see a police officer they feel safe. This suggests that discontent concerning the police from Die Linke voters is likely to be linked to concerns involving excessive policing and its impact on minorities.
55% of respondents who voted for Alliance 90/The Greens approve of the police and 51% of them agree that they feel safe when they see a police officer. This below average support of the police is in line with Alliance 90/Green Party’s stance advocating for a better equipped police force and criticising the downsizing of the police department which occurred under the helm of the CDU. Conversely, given the centre-left profile of Alliance 90/The Greens, it is possible that some of their disapproval of the police in Germany also stems from perceptions of discrimination against minorities.
Overall, the German public is less sure about racism than it is about the police. 46% of German respondents think racism is a problem for black people in Germany, compared to 41% who think it is not.
The split is even closer when respondents were asked if they think Germany is a racist society on the whole, with 34% of respondents agreeing and 35% disagreeing that Germany is a racist society. From the “guest workers” era to the recent surge of asylum seekers, Germany has a history of welcoming migrants. However, minority groups also face opposition to their immigration and discrimination, as evidenced by the rise of the AfD party. It is clear public opinion is very divided on this issue.