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Poll: Americans are more concerned about police violence than violence at protests

As with much else in American life, there’s a stark partisan divide.

Protesters chant and wave signs at the CPD during a protest on June 6, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.
Natasha Moustache/Getty Images

It’s not just the people protesting in the streets — most Americans are concerned about police violence, and specifically the killing of George Floyd, new polls show.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Sunday found that a majority of Americans are more troubled with the actions of the Minneapolis police that led to Floyd’s death, rather than by violence at some protests. The poll was conducted among 1,000 people from May 28 to June 2, just days after Floyd was killed on May 25 by a police officer who pinned him down by the neck with his knee, and early on in the (largely peaceful) protests.

Despite some criticism surrounding images of looting and arson, the poll found that only 27 percent of voters thought the violence of protesters was more concerning than the actions of the police and Floyd’s death — a contrast to the 59 percent that found the latter far more troubling. A big caveat: As with much else in American life, there’s a stark partisan divide. Nearly half of Republicans (48 percent) said they were more concerned about the protests, while 81 percent of Democrats found the police killing of Floyd a bigger issue.

Opinions differed by race as well. 78 percent of African Americans were more concerned with the police’s actions in contrast to the 15 percent that were troubled by the protesters’ violence. The gap between the two opinions dwindled among white Americans: 54 percent found the police violence that led to Floyd’s death more troubling, while 30 percent were more concerned with violent protests.

Regardless of politics or race, a majority of Americans are more bothered by police brutality — which could explain the strong support for police reform measures revealed in another recent survey. The poll, conducted by YouGov from May 29 to 30 among 1,060 people, showed that 67 percent of Americans supported banning any type of neck restraints, which was a police tactic used when Floyd died. Implementing an early warning system to identify problematic officers was also popular among 80 percent of Americans. The most supported reform measure was training officers on deescalation tactics, which was approved by 88 percent of Americans.

And while police may have historically been popular among Americans, these polls could indicate that their popularity might be faltering due to the recent waves of protest. A survey of over 6,000 people from Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape found that the favorability figures for the police plunged 10 percent in one week — 66 percent to 56 percent — just days after Floyd’s death.

“This is a unique moment in American history,” Robert Griffin, research director for the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, told the New York Daily News. “To see shifts like this really speaks to what a monumental event these protests have been.”