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Americans’ respect for police officers surged last year

A backlash to the backlash

Over the past few years, Black Lives Matter activists have prompted an unprecedented level of media and political scrutiny on questions related to police misconduct. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign very openly sounded these themes — first to rally people of color to her standard in the primary campaign against Bernie Sanders, and then on an ongoing basis in her losing general election campaign — in a way that was strikingly different from her husband’s “tough on crime” politics.

Under the circumstances, many people may not be aware that 2016 was also a year in which Gallup found a huge surge in pro-police sentiment among the mass public.


Activists, of course, would never frame a movement for more rigorous oversight of misconduct as expressing a lack of respect for police. And there is no doubt a huge number of Americans who would both tell you that they have enormous respect for the police in their local community and also respect the concerns that have been raised about the conduct of some police officers.

But the trend line here is striking and unmistakable — rising scrutiny of police departments happened alongside an impressive awakening of pro-police sentiment.

And, strikingly, while the level of respect for police is higher among whites than non-whites, the change is visible across ethnic groups.


Indeed, in percentage terms non-whites actually expressed a larger surge of respect for police officers. Combine this with the apparent rise in the rate of murder and violent crime (albeit still to levels that are lower than what we saw five or ten years ago) and it’s relatively easy to see why Donald Trump thinks emphasizing his disposition to support law enforcement officers is smart politics.