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Most Americans support greater scrutiny of police as discrimination concerns persist, Post-ABC poll finds

People react after a guilty verdict was announced at the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the 2020 death of George Floyd, on Tuesday in Minneapolis, Minn. Chauvin has been convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd.
People react after a guilty verdict was announced at the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the 2020 death of George Floyd, on Tuesday in Minneapolis, Minn. Chauvin has been convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd.Morry Gash/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Six in 10 Americans say the country should do more to hold police accountable for mistreatment of Black people, far outpacing concerns about those measures interfering with how law enforcement does its job, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The nationwide survey also finds that concerns over treatment of Black Americans and other minorities by the criminal justice system ― which spiked last summer amid national protests after George Floyd’s killing ― have eased slightly since then. But those concerns remain at the highest point in previous surveys dating back to 1988.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted Sunday through Wednesday, a period that overlaps with Tuesday’s conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin on three charges, including murder, in Floyd’s killing. While the event has the potential to shift attitudes, the poll found no significant differences between respondents interviewed before and after the verdict’s announcement.

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Atop a series of law enforcement killings in recent years, Floyd’s death and the nationwide protests that followed appear to have shaken Americans’ confidence in police. In 2014, 54 percent said they were confident police were adequately trained to avoid the use of excessive force, but that dropped to 47 percent last July and 44 percent this month, with 55 percent now saying they lack confidence in police.

Along with that shift, Americans now support greater scrutiny of police conduct. A 60 percent majority say the country should do more to hold police accountable for mistreatment of Black people, while 33 percent say the country is doing too much to interfere in how police officers do their job.

The poll also finds some skepticism of how President Biden has handled the issue, with 42 percent of Americans saying he is doing “too little” to reform police practices in the country, while 32 percent say he has done the right amount and 15 percent say he has done “too much.” Nearly half of Black Americans and Democrats say Biden has done too little on this issue, a significant break from their typical lopsided support of his actions on other fronts.

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Opinions on greater scrutiny of police divide sharply along partisan and racial lines, with more than 8 in 10 Democrats saying the country should do more to hold police accountable for mistreatment of Black people, compared with about 6 in 10 independents and 3 in 10 Republicans. And while about 8 in 10 Black adults and nearly 7 in 10 Hispanic adults say more should be done to hold police accountable, just over half of white adults say the same.

Gender and age also play a role, with 67 percent of women saying the country should do more to hold police accountable for mistreatment of Black Americans, compared with 53 percent of men. And while half of seniors 65 and older say they support more accountability for police, that rises to 59 percent for adults ages 40-64 and to 67 percent for those ages 18-39.

Despite those divisions, concerns about mistreatment of Black Americans in the criminal justice system have risen across partisan, racial, educational, and age groups over the past decade, and particularly since Floyd’s killing on May 25, 2020. The latest poll finds 63 percent of adults overall say Black people and other minorities do not receive equal treatment to white people in the criminal justice system, down from 69 percent who said this last July but higher than 55 percent in 2012, which previously matched the high point in polls asking similar questions since 1988.

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Large majorities of Black Americans have long said the criminal justice system is racially discriminatory, but white Americans have shifted their views. In 2014, 44 percent of white adults said Black people and other minorities were not treated equally in the criminal justice system, but that sentiment rose to 62 percent last summer and stands at 57 percent in the latest survey. A 68 percent majority of Hispanic adults say the same.

Yet white Americans are increasingly divided by partisanship in their views on race and policing. Among white Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 87 percent say Black people and other minorities do not receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system, compared with 36 percent of white Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. In 2014, 66 percent of white Democrats said Black people and other minorities were treated unfairly in the justice system, while 29 percent of white Republicans said the same.

Opinions differ, however, when it comes to how to handle past mistreatment of Black Americans. Biden has endorsed an effort by Democratic lawmakers to create a commission studying the impact of slavery and racial discrimination and considering whether to pay reparations to descendants of enslaved people. The Post-ABC poll finds 65 percent of Americans oppose the federal government paying money to Black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved, while 28 percent support such payments.

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Two-thirds of Black adults support reparations, compared with about one-third of Hispanic adults and 2 in 10 white adults. Democrats split almost evenly on the issue, with 46 percent in support and 44 percent opposed, while support drops to 26 percent among independents and 5 percent of Republicans.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone April 18 through April 21 among a random national sample of 1,007 adults, with 75 percent reached on cellphones and 25 percent on landlines. Results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the full sample.