One of the issues that has taken centerstage this year is police reforms and calls for defunding police departments. Some city councils and prominent activists have issued demands to dismantle police departments and replace them with more a citizen- and holistic approach.

While some radical activists support that, it’s clear from The Winston Group research that most Americans do not. And there are growing concerns about the violence that began in cities that turned from peaceful marches into looting, vandalism, and worse are spreading into the suburbs and against individuals. This is what a recent article from the New York Times said:

The more personal tactics echo those being used against elected officials, with activists showing up not only outside mayor’s offices but their homes as well. The apartment building where the mayor of Portland lives has been vandalized. Protesters lit fires outside, ignited fireworks, and broke into one of the businesses in the building on his birthday. In San Jose, Calif., demonstrators graffitied and egged the mayor’s house and lit an American flag in front of it, according to the police. In Rochester, people have recently posted police officers’ home addresses and information about their families, according to a police spokeswoman.

In Portland, Jessie Burke, who is white and owns a coffee shop in the city, said the message of the movement is getting lost as the protests escalate and target ordinary residents in their homes.

… The American flag that generated controversy is displayed in Kenton, a neighborhood of Portland with small bungalows, lush front gardens and ripe fruit trees. Weeks after the confrontation, the husband and wife who fly the flag said they were fearful of retaliation from the roving protesters, who had found their phone number.

But they say they will not be intimidated into removing the flag.

The issue of crime and safety does not normally enter into national policy discussions – these are issues that tend to be handled at more local levels of government. But the widespread unrest has brought this to the forefront, increasing it by 9 percentage points to put it on par with Social Security. This isn’t just among Republicans and Independents, either. For Democrats, crime and safety is on the same level as the environment and climate change.

When conducting its research, The Winston Group specifically asked people about Antifa. Nearly half of the respondents said they saw the group as having “incited violence in cities throughout the country” (49 percent) whereas barely a quarter said that “their activities have been exaggerated and sensationalized, and there is not a real threat.” Suburban women fall into the former group, believing that Antifa has incited violence.

This chart shows how the public sees Antifa. 24 percent say "their activities have been exaggerated and sensationalized, and there is not a real threat." 49 percent say "they have incited violence in cities throughout the country." 26 percent don't know.
This chart shows how different political groups see Antifa. 33 percent of Democrats say their activities have been exaggerated; 34 percent say they have incited violence, and 33 percent don't know.
(Images courtesy of The Winston Group)

According Property Claim Services, which tracks insurance claims related to civil disorder, the riots that began in the wake of George Floyd’s death could cost as much as $2 billion. There were protests in 140 cities, and riots, looting, and vandalism spread to multiple cities. The total cost looks to “eclips[e] the record set in Los Angeles in 1992 after the acquittal of the police officers who brutalized Rodney King, according to Axios.

Most people support the police reforms that were contained in Senator Tim Scott’s (R-SC) legislation (full legislative text). Republicans, particularly, want to ensure the safety and security of communities and neighborhoods, but Independents aren’t that far away in terms of intensity on this topic. The clear message is reform, not defund; elected officials would be wise to listen to what the majority, which is being drowned out by the louder voices on social media, are saying.

For the full report click, “America’s Views of Public Policy Proposals and Goals.”

Stay tuned for a third blog post looking at Americans’ views of retirement security.