Will Independent Voters Support Defunding Police?

Scott Lay
Publisher of The Nooner

Plentiful signs and a theme throughout the weekend was “Defund the police.” The same message was painted next to the “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on 16th St. NW leading to The White House. Unlike the latter, the “defund” message was not city-approved and it sounds like city crews will be removing it.

My question is what the messaging around these protests is playing with independent voters. In November, 90% of both Democrats and Republicans will vote for their party’s nominee from the presidential to the Assembly races. That is seen in almost every poll and nothing new in 2020. The swing voters are independents.

We have polling from PPIC in February 2020 that we can look at that might help us understand. Of course, February’s polling preceded the George Floyd death although these situations are not novel. Let’s look at some data.

  • Overall: When asked “How would you rate the job your local police are doing in controlling crime in your community: excellent, good, fair, or poor?,” a total of 73% of independent likely voters rated the job performance of local police as excellent (23%) or good (40%). For reference, that number was 63% for Democrats and 73% for Republicans, so independents aren’t that different from partisan voters.
  • Equity: When asked “Do you think the police in your community treat all racial and ethnic groups fairly almost always, most of the time, only some of the time, or almost never?,” a total of 63% of independent likely voters responded either almost always (38%) or most of the time (25%). Unlike the overall job performance number, there is a partisan divide on this one with independents landing in the middle. 51% of Democrats rated either almost always (21%) or most of the time (30%), while 75% of Republicans rated either almost always (47%) or most of the time (28%).

Now, I don’t know how the Memorial Day death of Floyd and the subsequent news coverage affects the above numbers. I doubt the Republican number moves too much. President Trump’s message has been strongly law and order, and President Trump has an 84% approval rating among California likely GOP voters. Democrats likely move to the left. Independents likely move a little more to the “fair” rating on overall performance and from “almost always” to “most of the time” on the equity question.

We don’t have a poll on whether we should defund the police and it means different things to different people. The Minneapolis City Council is discussing the topic after a majority of the council has said that they endorse the concept. For some, it means moving what are seen as not essential criminal justice functions from police to other areas, such as social or health services, such as drug and alcohol treatment. To others, it’s demilitarizing the police and ending the surplus military equipment program that transfers unused equipment from the armed forces to police departments. And to the extreme, it means significantly downsizing the number officers allowed to exert force to effectuate arrest.

Because of my sincere desire of physical distancing, I wasn’t up to interview those carrying the “Defund the Police” signs Sunday in Sacramento, but given the general tenor of the crowd, I’m guessing it would have been at the extreme, likely along the lines of an activist who spoke at the Minneapolis protest yesterday attended by councilmembers who said they were ready to defund. She said “We don’t want no more police.”

What does more mean? Obviously, that could have two distinct and very different meanings.

And, that’s what we’re talking about in relation to independent voters and November. “Defund the Police” and “We don’t want no more police” will be interpreted in the minds of the voters unless given a different narrative. If nothing is done, expect statements like that and images like the sign above in television ads and the mail this fall against Democratic candidates. In a cycle where Democrats have a +7.8 average advantage on the generic ballot nationally, Democrats need to do something to defend against that barrage of attacks or face the consequences in November.

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