After a couple of years of declining trust, Americans’ confidence in police is back to the historical average.
A new survey, from Gallup, at face value suggests that Black Lives Matter protests over police use of force only made a brief impression in the US: There were notable declines in confidence in police in 2014 and 2015, but confidence levels subsequently returned to the historical average through increases in 2016 and 2017.
But if you dig a little deeper into Gallup’s numbers, the story gets more complicated. It’s not necessarily that the Black Lives Matter protests have had no impact, but that they’ve had different effects on different segments of the population.
According to Gallup’s polling, confidence in police dropped between 2012 and 2014 and 2015 and 2017 and has remained down among liberals, young people, and racial minorities. But confidence in police actually increased since between 2012 and 2014 among conservatives, older people, and white Americans — enough, it seems, to outweigh the losses in confidence among other groups.
“The difference is especially pronounced between liberals (39% confident in 2015-2017) and conservatives (67% confident),” Gallup found. “And in the June 2017 poll, the percentage of liberals who are confident is down to 38%, the lowest since at least 2000, while conservatives are at 73%, their highest mark going back to 2000.”
In short, it seems like the backlash to Black Lives Matter has had a bigger impact in the overall polling numbers than support for Black Lives Matter has had. The higher public support for cops will likely make it more difficult to successfully push for police reform, at least in the short term.
That could change in the future. White Americans are a shrinking segment as a percent of the population, while minority Americans are growing. Older generations will over time die out. So if the current trend holds — and that’s a very big if — Black Lives Matter really could have a long-term impact on confidence in police.