As public safety tops the agenda, Americans want both order and justice

New USA Today/Ipsos poll finds majority support the police and police reforms

The author(s)
  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
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Washington, DC, July 8, 2021

As America emerges from the COVID pandemic, crime and public safety have re-emerged as a major focus of the American people. This comes as Americans believe (correctly) that violent crime across the nation has increased from last year and (incorrectly) that violence is at a thirty-year high. Support for the police is generally high and bipartisan with majorities trusting the police to improve crime and public safety. Additionally, large majorities support increased police budgets and putting more officers on the street.

However, the social justice protests of 2020 appear to have had an impact with Americans looking for more than just policing. This survey finds less than a quarter of Americans believe police treat all Americans equally. Additionally, majorities support police reform efforts like de-escalation training, directing some police budget to community policing and social services, and independent investigation of police shootings. However, ‘defund the police’ specifically remains unpopular with under a quarter of Americans supporting the movement, including only one in three Democrats.

When it comes to the politics of law and order, the picture is somewhat complicated. Republicans hold a small advantage when people are asked who they trust on crime and public safety – primarily because of support from white Independents and Hispanics. However, Joe Biden is trusted more than Donald Trump with those same groups swinging towards the Democrats. Additionally, when given a forced-choice question, a plurality of Americans line up closer to Biden’s position than the Republican alternative.

Detailed findings:

1. Americans have a somewhat skewed view of violent crime, with most incorrectly thinking crime rates are historically high.

  • Three in five Americans (62%) believe that national violent crime has increased from last year, which broadly matches the best data on crime rates.
  • However, almost as many (57%) believe that violent crime is worse now than thirty years ago, which crime rates were in fact much higher.
  • People do not see as much crime in their communities, with a plurality (47%) saying it is unchanged from last year.

2. People generally support the police and greater investment in policing.

  • Almost three-quarters (72%) have a favorable opinion of police and law enforcement. Slightly fewer, 64%, trust police and law enforcement to handle crime and public safety issues.
  • Three-quarters (77%) of Americans support deploying more police officers to street patrols and similar levels (70%) support increasing police department budgets.
  • Two-thirds (68%) of Americans agree that ‘police officers are generally good and well-meaning’ with a similar level (65%) saying ‘disrespect of police officers and law enforcement is a serious problem in the US’.

3. However, Americans are equally supportive of reform and appear to want more than just policing.

  • Fewer than a quarter (22%) of Americans say ‘police treat all Americans equally’ with even less (17%) saying the same of criminal justice courts and lawyers.
  • A clear majority (64%) support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use and a bare majority (52%) support ending pre-trial cash bail systems.
  • Almost two-thirds (62%) support reallocating some police budget to community policing and social services. Additionally, four in five (81%) support mandating police-involved shootings be investigated by a separate authority with almost all (90%) supporting de-escalation training for all police officers.
  • A plurality of Americans (45%) say that when it comes to crime and public safety, ‘we should shift some funding to social services, get guns off the street, and de-militarize policing’ versus just over a third (37%) who say ‘we should spend more on police and let police officers do their job as they see fit’.
  • Only a third of Americans (36%) support ‘stop-and-frisk’ policing.

4. The politics of public safety is complicated, with some Republican advantages potentially held back by public distrust of Donald Trump.

  • More Americans trust the Republican party (32%) than the Democratic party (24%) on crime and public safety (though the plurality say ‘neither’ at 44%).
  • However, more trust Joe Biden (42%) than Donald Trump (37%) on the issue (neither at 20%) suggesting if it comes down to Biden vs. Trump, Republicans may lose some of their advantage.
  • Among Democrats, almost 2 to 1, they support a focus on tightening gun laws and combating crime over a focus on reforming police departments.
  • Just over a third of Americans (39%) believe talking about ‘defund the police’ cost Democrats in the last election.

About the Study

This USA Today/Ipsos Crime and Safety poll was conducted June 29th to July 6th, 2021 by Ipsos using our KnowledgePanel®. This poll is based on a nationally representative probability sample of 1,201 general population adults age 18 or older with oversamples among Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander and Pacific Islander Americans. The sample includes 302 Republicans, 441 Democrats, and 357 Independents.  

The survey was conducted using KnowledgePanel, the largest and most well-established online probability-based panel that is representative of the adult US population. Our recruitment process employs a scientifically developed addressed-based sampling methodology using the latest Delivery Sequence File of the USPS – a database with full coverage of all delivery points in the US. Households invited to join the panel are randomly selected from all available households in the U.S. Persons in the sampled households are invited to join and participate in the panel. Those selected who do not already have internet access are provided a tablet and internet connection at no cost to the panel member. Those who join the panel and who are selected to participate in a survey are sent a unique password-protected log-in used to complete surveys online. As a result of our recruitment and sampling methodologies, samples from KnowledgePanel cover all households regardless of their phone or internet status and findings can be reported with a margin of sampling error and projected to the general population.

The study was conducted in both English and Spanish. The data were weighted to adjust for gender by age, race/ethnicity, education, Census region, metropolitan status, household income, race/ethnicity by gender, race/ethnicity by age, race/ethnicity by education and party identification. The demographic benchmarks came from 2019 American Community Survey (ACS) from the US Census Bureau with benchmarks for metropolitan status from the March 2020 Supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS). The weighting categories were as follows:

  • Gender (Male, Female) by Age (18–29, 30–44, 45–59, and 60+)
  • Race/Hispanic Ethnicity (White Non-Hispanic, Black Non-Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander/Pacific Islander Non-Hispanic, Other or 2+ Races Non-Hispanic, Hispanic)
  • Education (High School graduate or less, Some College, Bachelor and beyond)
  • Census Region (Northeast, Midwest, South, West)
  • Metropolitan status (Metro, non-Metro)
  • Household Income (Under $25,000, $25,000-$49,999, $50,000-$74,999, $75,000-$99,999, $100,000-$149,999, $150,000+)
  • Race/Hispanic Ethnicity (White/Other non-Hispanic, Black Non-Hispanic, Hispanic) by gender (Male, Female)
  • Race/Hispanic Ethnicity (White/Other non-Hispanic, Black Non-Hispanic, Hispanic) by age (18-44, 45+)
  • Race/Hispanic Ethnicity (White/Other non-Hispanic, Black Non-Hispanic, Hispanic) by education (Less than college grad, Bachelor and beyond)
  • Party ID (Democrat, Republican, Independent, Something else)

The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample of adults.The margin of sampling error takes into account the design effect, which was 1.19. The margin of sampling error is higher and varies for results based on sub-samples. In our reporting of the findings, percentage points are rounded off to the nearest whole number. As a result, percentages in a given table column may total slightly higher or lower than 100%. In questions that permit multiple responses, columns may total substantially more than 100%, depending on the number of different responses offered by each respondent.

The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 6.0 percentage points for Republicans, plus or minus 5.1 percentage points for Democrats, and plus or minus 5.6 percentage points for Independents. The design effect is 1.14 for Republicans, 1.19 for Democrats, and 1.15 for Independents.

About Ipsos

Ipsos is the world’s third largest Insights and Analytics company, present in 90 markets and employing more than 18,000 people.

Our passionately curious research professionals, analysts and scientists have built unique multi-specialist capabilities that provide true understanding and powerful insights into the actions, opinions and motivations of citizens, consumers, patients, customers or employees. We serve more than 5000 clients across the world with 75 business solutions.

Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos is listed on the Euronext Paris since July 1st, 1999. The company is part of the SBF 120 and the Mid-60 index and is eligible for the Deferred Settlement Service (SRD).

ISIN code FR0000073298, Reuters ISOS.PA, Bloomberg IPS:FP

The author(s)
  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs