Most Black voters tell theGrio/KFF survey they support funding or increased funding for police

TheGrio/KFF Survey of Black Voters found that very few Black voters support decreasing funding for police departments in their area.

During his first State of the Union address earlier this year, President Joe Biden strongly declared that, contrary to claims by Republican leaders that the Democratic Party wants to defund the police, his administration would “fund the police.”

“We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police. The answer is to fund the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities,” said Biden.

President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the U.S. Capitol House Chamber on March 1, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Saul Loeb – Pool/Getty Images)

At the time, Biden’s message received a mixed reception. While civil rights leaders and elected officials agreed that there was a need for public safety amid a spike in violent crime in cities across the U.S., some expressed uneasiness with the president’s forceful message on policing. 

For some, Biden’s declaration to fund the police was interpreted as a step away from his commitment to federal police reform designed to address police brutality in Black and brown communities. A bill introduced in Congress named after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man murdered by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020, failed during bipartisan negotiations in the U.S. Senate. 

After Biden’s address in March, U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., an activist turned member of Congress, slammed the president’s declaration to fund the police. “With all due respect, Mr. President. You didn’t mention saving Black lives once in this speech. All our country has done is given more funding to the police. The result? 2021 set a record for fatal police shootings,” tweeted Bush. ”Defund the police. Invest in our communities.”

Despite the political divide on the issue, a new theGrio/KFF Survey of Black Voters, conducted Aug. 24 through Sept. 5, found that very few Black voters (17%) support decreasing funding for police departments in their area. In fact, 34% of Black voters surveyed by theGrio/KFF said they would like to see police funding increase, while a majority (48%) would like to see funding kept about the same. Additionally, the survey found that Black voters living in urban areas are somewhat more likely to support increased police funding compared to those in suburban areas (39% vs. 29%).

Thinking about police departments in your area, do you think spending on policing should be increased, kept about the same or decreased?

This latest data shows that most Black voters, considered the core of the Democratic Party base, are aligned with President Biden’s consistent message and policy to fund policing. In his Safer America Plan released this past summer, Biden proposed tens of billions of dollars be invested in federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in a broader public safety agenda to keep communities safe.

The community policing and crime prevention plan includes funding an additional 100,000 police officers, focusing on recruiting and retaining officers who “demonstrate a commitment to honorably serving and protecting.” The Biden plan would also bolster the number of U.S. attorneys and U.S. deputy marshalls in an effort to “ramp up” prosecutions of those who commit shootings and other violent crimes. 

Christina M. Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University, told theGrio that the survey of Black voters on police funding doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise. She pointed to Eric Adams, a former police officer, who was elected last year as New York City’s second Black mayor in history—something Greer noted was “no small feat.”

“He was not only a police officer, but he won by saying we need policing,” she explained. 

Two NYPD Officers Shot In Harlem
New York City Mayor Eric Adams speaks to members of the media at Harlem Hospital on January 21, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Greer doesn’t think Black communities see the issue of police funding and police reform in a vacuum. “A lot of Black middle-class people, Black poor people, older Black people are saying, I don’t want you harassing my son on the way to work or the way to school, but I do want to see some police.”

She continued, “When I call 911, I don’t want to wait two hours. I want somebody to be here in five minutes because we do have a crime problem—whether it’s persisted, or whether it’s perceived, or new, or whatever it may be, in a COVID era.

Kanya Bennett, managing director of government affairs at the Leadership Conference, said the issue of funding and reforming the police “is not black and white.”

“The desire to have police reforms certainly can happen with a desire to have continued investments in policing,” she told theGrio.

A major argument from proponents of defunding the police has been that exorbitant law enforcement budgets should be significantly reduced, citing repeated abuses by police and a need to provide more funding for other critical public resources like hiring more social workers and mental health professionals to respond to emergency matters.

(Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Bennett cautioned that just because Black voters indicated that they want to see continued investment in policing doesn’t mean they don’t also want to see other investments in their communities, from housing to education. 

“We want to make sure that when we look at these numbers, we are also thinking about them in the big picture,” said Bennett, who emphasized that civil rights advocates and organizations are “pushing to make sure that we see those investments.”

Whether on the local, state, or federal level, one’s budget represents a “community’s principles.” Bennett said her organization often “advises constituents to think of a budget as their moral budgets.”

Further contextualizing the possible drivers for Black voters’ thoughts on policing, Greer noted that there are “quite a few” African-Americans who are themselves, police officers, “either in civilian capacity or uniform capacity.” Economically speaking, she said, law enforcement is also an “entree into the middle class.”

For these reasons, Greer said it’s important to acknowledge the “nuance of what defund the police means.” She explained, “defund the police is a very strong message from a particular faction of the Democratic Party, but it does not represent the entire Democratic Party, and it definitely does not represent the entire Black community by any stretch of the imagination.”

Still, police misconduct and racial bias remain a concern in Black communities. While the Biden administration’s public safety plan emphasizes necessary training for police, Greer cautioned that training programs alone “does not mean that they won’t behave poorly and in detrimental ways to Black people.” 

(Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

The stalled George Floyd Justice In Policing Act would lower the criminal intent standard to convict a law enforcement officer for misconduct in a federal prosecution and place limits on qualified immunity as a defense to liability in a private civil action against a law enforcement officer, among other actions. 

President Biden could not rally Democrats and Republicans to pass the federal reform bill in a needed bipartisan push amid a divided Congress; however, Bennett noted the president’s executive action on police reform, which set federal standards for use of force and no-knock warrants. While the order is limited to only federal law enforcement and does not cover state and local police, Bennett said the hope is that it will “trickle down.”

She added that it is “critical” that communities and advocates hold the Biden-Harris administration accountable for the executive order’s implementation.

Still, an executive order is not permanent, as it could be undone by a future administration. Therefore, Bennett noted, it’s still crucial that a bill like the Floyd Act is passed into law.

“We will continue to push to see that enacted,” she said. “But we do have tools and we do have resources at the federal level that are encouraging reform, and we need to make sure that we are focused on those as well.”

About the Survey

The Survey of Black Voters is the first partnership survey between theGrio and KFF, a nonprofit organization focused on research and analysis of health and other national issues. Teams from KFF and theGrio worked together to develop the questionnaire and analyze the data, and both organizations contributed financing for the survey. Each organization is solely responsible for its content.

The survey was conducted Aug. 24–Sept. 5 with a nationally representative, probability-based sample of 1,000 adults who identify as Black or African American and are registered to vote. The sample includes all voters who identify as Black or African American, including those who also identify as Hispanic or multi-racial. The sampling design includes Black registered voters reached online through the SSRS Opinion Panel and the Ipsos KnowledgePanel; to reach Black voters who do not use the internet, additional interviews were conducted by calling back respondents who previously participated in an SSRS Omnibus poll and identified as Black and said they did not use the internet. The combined telephone and panel samples were weighted to match the sample’s demographics to the national U.S. population of Black voters using data from the Census Bureau’s 2020 Current Population Survey (CPS) Voting and Registration supplement. Sampling, data collection, weighting and tabulation were managed by SSRS of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, in close collaboration with KFF researchers.

The results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points for results based on the full sample of Black voters. The full methodology and question-wording are available here.

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is the Managing Editor of Politics and Washington Correspondent at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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