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Pew Research Center conducted this study to understand how Americans are viewing proposals aimed at addressing policing in the aftermath of the widely covered deaths of several Black people in police custody, as well as widespread protests against racism and excessive use of force by police. For this analysis, we surveyed 4,708 U.S. adults in June 2020. Everyone who took part is a member of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and its methodology.

With legislation to address racism and the use of excessive force by law enforcement stalled in Congress, there is broad public support in the United States for permitting citizens to sue police officers in order to hold them accountable for misconduct or using excessive force.

Two-thirds of Americans say civilians need to have the power to sue police officers for using excessive forceThe legal doctrine of “qualified immunity” generally protects officers from being held personally liable in lawsuits unless they commit clear violations of law. A proposal to limit qualified immunity has emerged as a stumbling block in the congressional debate over policing.

Two-thirds of Americans (66%) say that civilians need to have the power to sue police officers to hold them accountable for misconduct and excessive use of force, even if that makes the officers’ jobs more difficult. Just 32% say that, in order for police officers to do their jobs effectively, they need to be shielded from such lawsuits.

About eight-in-ten Black adults (86%) favor permitting citizens to sue police officers to hold them accountable for misconduct, as do 75% of Hispanic adults and 60% of white adults. There also are sizable partisan differences in views of qualified immunity, reflecting the divisions over the issue in Congress. A majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (84%) say citizens need the power to sue police officers for the use of excessive force and misconduct, compared with 45% of Republicans and Republican leaners.

The national survey, conducted June 16-22 among 4,708 adults using Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel, finds that the public’s evaluations of police performance in several key areas have declined since the Center last explored attitudes among police officers and the public in 2016.

Declining shares of Americans give police forces positive ratings for using force appropriately, treating racial groups equally and holding officers accountable

A 58% majority of Americans say police around the country do an excellent or good job of protecting people from crime, which is little changed from the share who said this four years ago (62%). However, there have been double-digit declines in the shares who say police forces do an excellent or good job of using the right amount of force for each situation (from 45% in 2016 to 35% today), treating racial and ethnic groups equally (47% to 34%) and holding officers accountable when misconduct occurs (44% to 31%).

The declines on all three measures have been comparable among Black and white adults. Democrats are far less positive about police performance than they were in 2016, while the change among Republicans has been less pronounced.

For example, just 10% of Democrats say police around the country do an excellent or good job in treating racial and ethnic groups equally, down from 27% in 2016. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans (64%) have a positive view of how police around the country do in treating racial and ethnic groups equally, which is a modest decline from four years ago (71%).

The survey finds little support for reducing spending on policing. Just 25% of Americans say spending on policing in their area should be decreased, with only 12% saying it should be decreased a lot; another 14% say it should be reduced a little.

Far more Americans favor keeping spending on policing at current levels – or increasing it – than cutting spending A 73% majority say that spending on their local police should stay about the same as it is now (42%) or be increased from its current level (31%). While Black adults are more likely than whites to favor cuts in police budgets, fewer than half of Black adults (42%) say spending on policing in their areas should be reduced. That is double the share of white adults who favor cutting funding for their local police (21%).

There also are sizable age differences in views of funding for policing. Among both Black and white adults, those under age 50 are far more likely to support decreased funding for police in their areas than are those 50 and older.

The survey finds that Americans overwhelmingly favor requiring police to be trained in nonviolent alternatives to deadly force; 92% support this proposal, including 71% who strongly favor it.

Broad support for several policing policies, including making it a crime for police to use chokeholds Several other policing proposals draw broad support as well: 90% of the public favors a federal government database to track officers accused of misconduct. Three-quarters support giving civilian oversight boards the power to investigate and discipline officers accused of misconduct, and similar shares favor requiring officers to live in the places they police and outlawing police use of chokeholds or strangleholds.

While majorities of both parties and of Black, white and Hispanic adults favor each of these proposals, there are substantial differences in intensity of support on most of them. For example, while large shares of Black (87%) and white adults (71%) favor outlawing police use of chokeholds or strangleholds, nearly three-quarters of Black adults (74%) strongly favor this proposal, compared with fewer than half of white adults (44%).

Wide racial, partisan gaps in views of police performance

Americans are divided along partisan and racial lines in their evaluations of police. Across four measures of police performance, white adults are consistently more positive about the performance of police around the country than Black adults, and Republicans are much more positive than Democrats. While the partisan divide in positive evaluations of the police on most of these dimensions is nearly as wide among whites as it is overall, Black Democrats are more likely than their white counterparts to say that the police perform poorly.

Black adults are highly critical of police performance in several areas, including protecting people from crime; far fewer white adults express negative views

Overall, a majority of Americans (58%) say that police around the country are doing an excellent or good job of protecting people from crimes – a view held by 78% of Republicans and Republican leaners but 43% of Democrats and Democratic leaners. Two-thirds of white adults (67%) say the police are doing a good or excellent job of protecting people, while just 28% of Black adults say the same. Half of Hispanic adults say police do an excellent or good job of protecting people.

There are racial and ethnic divides among Democrats in these views: While just 27% of Black Democrats say police do an excellent or good job protecting people from crime (and fully 72% say they do a poor job of this), about half of white Democrats (49%) and 42% of Hispanic Democrats say the same.

Public ratings of the police in three other areas – using the right amount of force for each situation, treating racial and ethnic groups equally and holding officers accountable when misconduct occurs – are considerably more negative, with more than six-in-ten Americans rating police performance in these domains as only fair or poor. Black Americans are especially likely to rate police negatively in each of these areas.

However, majorities of Republicans say that police are doing an excellent or good job of using the right amount of force for each situation (61%) and treating racial and ethnic groups equally (64%). About half of Republicans (51%) say that police around the country are doing an excellent or good job of holding officers accountable when misconduct occurs. Fewer than two-in-ten Democrats rate police positively in these areas.

While only about one-in-ten white Democrats and Black Democrats rate police performance in these three areas positively, Black Democrats are significantly more likely than white Democrats to say police are doing a poor job in each of these areas. For example, three-quarters of Black Democrats say that police are doing a poor job of using the right amount of force for each situation, compared with 46% of white Democrats who say this.

Hispanic Democrats are more positive in their evaluations of police performance in these domains than both white and Black Democrats; still, majorities rate police performance in these areas as only fair or poor.

Overall ratings of the police have declined since 2016

Americans’ ratings of police performance are lower than they were four years ago, and while substantial racial and partisan divides remain, these declines are largely seen among both white and Black adults.

The share of white Americans who say police are doing an excellent or good job of holding officers accountable for misconduct has fallen from half in 2016 to about one-third today (34%). The share of Black Americans who say this has also declined, from 21% to 12%.

Black and white Americans less likely to rate police positively than in fall of 2016The shares of white and Black adults who say police around the country are doing an excellent or good job of using the right amount of force have declined by identical amounts – 10 percentage points each – since 2016. The shares saying police are doing an excellent or good job of treating racial and ethnic groups equally have also declined by identical amounts (11 points each).

There has been no significant change since 2016 in the shares of white and Black Americans saying that police are doing an excellent or good job of protecting people from crime.

While overall public evaluations of police performance have become more negative since 2016, declines among Democrats have generally been steeper than among Republicans.

Partisan gap on several evaluations of police performance wider than in 2016Republicans today are about as likely to say that police around the country do an excellent or good job of protecting people from crime as they were four years ago (78% today vs. 74% in 2016). Among Democrats, about four-in-ten (43%) say that police do an excellent or good job of protecting people, down from about half (53%) in 2016.

Republicans are only slightly less likely to say police do an excellent or good job of treating racial and ethnic groups equally or using the right amount of force for each situation than they were previously, but Democrats’ views on police performance in these areas have shifted downward more substantially. The share of Democrats who say police use appropriate force has decreased from 28% to 14%. And just one-in-ten Democrats now say that police do an excellent or good job of treating racial and ethnic groups equally, compared with about one-quarter (27%) who said this four years ago.

Republicans have changed the most in their views of police accountability. While nearly two-thirds (64%) said that police did an excellent or good job of holding officers accountable when misconduct occurs in 2016, only about half (51%) now say this. The share of Democrats who say police do an excellent or good job of holding officers accountable has decreased by a similar amount, from 27% to 13%.

Broad public support for several policing reform proposals

There is majority support among the public – and in both parties – for five policy proposals about policing included in the survey. However, there are still sizable partisan differences in these views.

Democrats more likely than Republicans to say they favor several police reform proposals Eight-in-ten or more Democrats either strongly or somewhat favor each of the five proposals, while there is more variation among Republicans. Even on policies where there is overwhelming bipartisan support – such as requiring police to be trained in nonviolent alternatives to deadly force, favored by nine-in-ten or more in both parties – Democrats are more likely than Republicans to strongly support such a policy (84% vs. 55%).

An overwhelming majority of Democrats (89%) say they favor giving civilian oversight boards power to investigate and discipline officers accused of misconduct, with 62% saying they strongly favor this. A narrower majority (58%) of Republicans say they either strongly or somewhat favor oversight boards (19% strongly favor). There is a similar pattern of opinion about making it a crime for police to use chokeholds or strangleholds (88% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans favor this).

Overwhelming majorities of both Republicans (85%) and Democrats (94%) favor creating a federal government database to track officers accused of misconduct. However, while about three-quarters of Democrats (77%) strongly favor this proposal, fewer than half of Republicans say the same (44%).

Large majorities of Republicans (91%) and Democrats (94%) also favor requiring police to be trained in nonviolent alternatives to deadly force. Among Democrats, 84% say they strongly favor this policy, while slightly more than half of Republicans (55%) say the same.

While majorities of white (71%), Black (82%) and Hispanic (81%) Americans favor giving civilian boards power to investigate and discipline officers, Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely than white Americans to favor this – and to do so strongly.

Black Americans more likely than white Americans to strongly favor several policing proposalsNearly nine-in-ten Black adults (87%) favor making it a crime for police to use chokeholds or strangleholds, including 74% who do so strongly. This proposed policy is supported by 71% of white adults and 75% of Hispanic adults.

Seven-in-ten or more white (74%), Black (79%) and Hispanic (72%) adults say they favor requiring officers to live in the places they police, with Black Americans somewhat more likely than Hispanic and white Americans to strongly favor this.

And while the creation of a federal government database to track officers accused of misconduct is supported by wide majorities across racial and ethnic groups, Black adults are more likely than white adults to strongly favor this proposal.

Overwhelming majorities across racial and ethnic groups say they favor requiring police to be trained in nonviolent alternatives to deadly force, with at least seven-in-ten saying they strongly favor this.

Just a quarter of the public says spending on police should be decreased

About four-in-ten Americans (42%) say spending on policing in their area should stay about the same, while 31% say it should be increased and 25% say it should be decreased.

Support for decreasing spending on policing is higher among younger adults, Black adults, and Democrats and Democratic leaners, though even in these groups fewer than half say spending should be decreased.

Black adults and young people most likely to say spending on police should be decreased Adults under 30 are much more likely than others to say that police spending should be decreased: 45% of those ages 18 to 29 say this, while 28% of those 30 to 49 and only 15% of those 50 and older say the same. Those over the age of 50 are more likely than younger Americans to say spending should be increased (37% say this, compared with 29% of 30- to 49-year-olds and 22% of those under 30).

About four-in-ten Black adults (42%) say spending on police in their area should decrease, including 22% who say spending should be decreased a lot. One-third of Black adults say spending should stay the same, while 22% say it should be increased.

In contrast, about two-in-ten white adults (21%) and a similar share of Hispanic adults (24%) say police spending in their area should be decreased, while larger shares in both groups (33% and 37%, respectively) say spending should be increased.

Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 41% say spending on the police should be decreased, while just 8% of Republicans say the same. By comparison, 45% of Republicans and just 19% of Democrats that spending on the police should be increased (46% of Republicans and 38% of Democrats say spending should stay the same).

Among Democrats there are sizable age and ideological differences on this question.

Among Democrats, support for cutting police spending higher among liberals, younger adultsWhite and Black Democrats are nearly equally likely to say that spending should be decreased (43% and 42% respectively); Hispanic Democrats are somewhat less likely to say this (32%). And while 34% of Hispanic Democrats say funding should be increased, that compares with 23% of Black Democrats and just 14% of white Democrats.

Younger Democrats are far more likely to say that spending on the police should be decreased. Similar majorities of white (57%) and Black (53%) Democrats under the age of 50 say that spending should be decreased, with nearly a third saying it should be decreased a lot (30% and 32%, respectively). By comparison, only about three-in-ten white and Black Democrats ages 50 and older (28% and 29%, respectively) say police spending should be decreased.

Liberal Democrats are much more likely to say that police spending should be decreased than conservative and moderate Democrats (57% vs. 27%). Democrats who say they are “very” liberal are particularly likely to hold this view – 68% say funding for police should be decreased, compared with 52% among those who say they are liberal (but not very liberal).

Democrats and younger Republicans back ending qualified immunity

Stark GOP age divide over whether civilians should be able to sue policeAmong Republicans, there are sizable divides by age when it comes to whether civilians should be able to sue the police: 61% of Republicans ages 18 to 29 say civilians need to have the power to sue police officers in order to hold them accountable, compared with about half of those 30 to 64 (47%) and just 31% of those 65 and older.

While at least three-quarters of Democrats in all age groups say that civilians should be able to sue the police, younger Democrats are more likely to say this: 87% of Democrats ages 18 to 29 say civilians need the power to sue the police, while slightly fewer Democrats 65 and older say the same (79%).

Eight-in-ten or more white (84%), Black (89%) and Hispanic (82%) Democrats say that civilians should have the power to sue police. White Democrats are much more likely than white Republicans to say this (84% vs. 43%).