US Confidence in Police Falls to Lowest Level in Nearly Three Decades: Poll

August 12, 2020 Updated: August 12, 2020

American confidence in the police has fallen to its lowest level ever recorded by Gallup, which has been tracking the data for nearly thirty years.

The new polling data released on Wednesday shows that 48 percent of Americans say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the police. This is down from 53 percent last year and the all-time high of 64 percent since the data was collected in 1993.

The fall appears to be driven by a growing racial divide on the issue of law enforcement. The poll found that there has been a persistent, wide racial divergence in U.S. adults’ confidence toward police officers, which has expanded in more recent years and reached its largest point in this year’s poll.

The racial gap between African American and white American polled reached was at 37 points in 2020, after the pollster recorded 56 percent of white Americans and 19 percent of African Americans say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the police.

The divide is likely fueled by a number of high-profile incidents of police violence against African Americans in recent years, the pollster said. Between 1993 and 2013, before the acquittal of the shooter in the Trayvon Martin case, the gap was around 25 points. But between 2014 and 2019, the difference in confidence in police between the racial groups rose to an average of 30 points as the Black Lives Matter movement gained prominence.

The poll was conducted in the weeks between June 8 and July 24, after the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died while in police custody. His death highlighted tensions between the African American community and law enforcement and sparked national protests and riots that called for police reform and a change in criminal justice policy.

The protests also gave life to the “defund the police” movement that calls for reallocation of funds away from police departments to other social programs. The movement emerged out of the belief that police departments are systemically racist and that police funding can be better used elsewhere to help African American communities.

Gallup found in a separate poll in July that a majority of Americans—58 percent—say major changes are needed to improve policing practices. Areas that could be improved include strengthening positive community relations, establishing greater accountability within police departments, and striking a better balance between the role of police and other community organizations, the pollster found.

The poll, Confidence in U.S. Institutions, also found that there was a significant divide among African Americans and white Americans in their confidence in the presidency. Forty-seven percent of white Americans say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the presidency, while only 13 percent of African Americans say the same, creating a 34 point difference.

Meanwhile, Americans saying they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the medical system rose by 15 percentage points this year to 51 percent from 36 percent in the previous year. The medical system has been on the frontlines battling the COVID-19 pandemic since the beginning of this year.

Gallup surveyed 1,226 U.S. adults and included an oversample of African American respondents, which was weighted to represent racial and ethnic groups proportionately to their share of the U.S. population. The poll also contains a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Follow Janita on Twitter: @janitakan