Americans’ confidence in the police fell to the lowest level recorded by Gallup in the nearly 30 years it has been tracking such data, driven in part by a growing racial divide on the issue.
About 48% of Americans said they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in police, down from 53% the previous year and an all-time high of 64% in 2004, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.
The poll was done in the weeks after George Floyd was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer sparking a protest movement against police brutality and systemic racism across the country. Gallup began tracking the question in 1993, the year after the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.
“Pretty much since the beginning we’ve always seen a gap in confidence in police between Black and white Americans,” said Jeff Jones, Gallup senior editor.
The racial divide on the question, which has been growing for years, reached its largest point in 2020: 56% of white adults say they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the police, while just 19% of Black adults say the same.
Researchers found the gap has been widening since 2014, the year after the Black Lives Matter movement began in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Over the following six years, Black Americans’ confidence in police began to drop, while white Americans’ trust in law enforcement remained fairly steady.
Jones said it was “not surprising” that the drop in confidence came amid the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and growing calls for cities to “defund the police,” or take money away from police departments and reinvest that money into social programs.
Most Americans believe that change must be made to law enforcement across the nation and that reforms are needed to reduce police brutality against Black Americans, according to a poll by Ipsos on behalf of Public Agenda and USA TODAY released in June.
The “defund the police” movement combined with the economic pressures of the coronavirus pandemic are leading to budget cuts law enforcement agencies across the country have not seen in more than a decade. Police in Seattle, New York City and Los Angeles are among departments that have announced cuts.
Jones said it’s hard to say whether confidence in police will continue to fall, but if police are serious about adopting reforms, it could not only improve the outcomes of Americans’ interactions with police but also “instill more confidence in all Americans of all races of the job the police do.”
Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions poll also measures Americans’ trust in systems like the media, public schools, the presidency, medical institutions and more. The poll surveyed 1,226 U.S. adults, including an oversample of Black Americans, June 8 to July 24.
The survey found Americans are most confident in small business and the military, two of the eight institutions that Black and white respondents feel significantly different about. The others include the Supreme Court, the criminal justice system, TV news and large technology companies.
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