Co-Written by Ashley Aylward
Two years ago, an excruciating video of George Floyd’s murder sparked righteous outrage in tens of millions of Americans, propelling the #BlackLivesMatter movement to become one of the leading issues championed by the emerging Democratic electorate — people of color and young people — going into the 2020 election.
The 2020 protests in reaction to Floyd’s and other murders of Black Americans at the hands of police officers represented perhaps the largest and most diverse mass political mobilization in American history. Despite the white backlash to this anti-racist movement, two years later, a decisive majority of Americans still want to reimagine our approach to public safety and tackle police brutality. Survey findings have consistently proven these claims: a majority of voters and even larger majorities of Black and younger voters under 50 support anti-racist police reform.
Majorities of Americans back a fundamental reconfiguration of public safety. An April 2021 Axios-Ipsos poll found that 57% of adults supported “Diverting some police budget to community policing and social services.” This includes 50% of white respondents, 72% of Hispanic respondents and 78% of Black respondents. HIT Strategies data corroborates this finding — majorities of voters want economic programs to address the root causes of crime, rejecting “tough on crime” solutions that propose increased police presence as the sole panacea.
With our partners Community Over Cages Campaign, we polled Atlanta voters about solutions to crime and public safety — their top-rated issue. 72% of them said they would support economic opportunities rather than hiring more police officers in order to make them feel safer in their city. This included 62% of white respondents, 82% of Black respondents and 80% of respondents under the age of 50. Similarly, 57% agreed that resources should be redirected from police departments and jails to fund community services like childcare and housing — again, including a majority of white respondents, 60% of Black respondents and 69% of respondents under the age of 50.
These findings also hold true nationwide. In HIT’s March 2022 Black Track poll of Black voters nationwide, we found that 79% of Black voters supported redirecting resources from police departments in order to fund community services. Even outside of left-leaning cities, Black voters want police reform.
Americans are also broadly supportive of policies that specifically address police misconduct. In April 2021, Data for Progress found that 58% of likely voters and 66% of likely voters under age 45 support changing the law to hold police accountable for their actions — per HIT’s summer 2021 poll with BLOC Wisconsin, 84% of Black Milwaukee voters (a group that rates crime as their top issue) support such changes. Similarly, in March 2021, Politico found that 73% of registered voters and 79% of voters under age 35 supported restrictions on chokeholds — support among Black Milwaukee voters for a ban stood at 81%.
The activists who spearheaded the mass mobilization after Floyd’s death have not just moved public opinion on police reform — they’re popular themselves. 55% of Americans say they support the Black Lives Matter movement; that’s a number most politicians would be envious of. Anyone who wants to appeal to a majority of voters nationally cannot ignore Black Lives Matter and issues of racism generally.
And some of these anti-racist attitudes have influenced federal policing practices. Joe Biden’s Department of Justice has launched broad investigations into abusive police departments across the country, including the Minneapolis department that killed Floyd and the Louisville department that killed Breonna Taylor. The DoJ has also banned federal officers’ use of chokeholds and restricted the use of “no-knock” warrants, the kind of police home entry that killed Breonna Taylor.
As we remember George Floyd, let’s not forget to continue pushing for reforms that could have saved his life and the lives of thousands of Black Americans who have died at the hands of aggressive policing. We must continue reimagining public safety and continue the right pursuit in the name of George Floyd.
Terrance Woodbury is a founding partner at HIT Strategies, a public opinion research firm targeting young people and communities of color.
Ashley Aylward is a pollster at HIT Strategies, whose work focuses on criminal justice reform.