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6 in 10 favor doing more to hold police accountable: POLL

A plurality says Joe Biden is doing "too little" to reform police practices.

April 23, 2021, 6:00 AM

Confidence that police in the United States are adequately trained to avoid using excessive force reached a new low in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, and 60% of Americans say the country should do more to hold police accountable for mistreatment of Black people.

More broadly, 63% say Black people and other minorities do not receive equal treatment as whites in the criminal justice system -- off its peak, 69%, last July, but the next highest in polls dating to 1988. That includes a majority of white people for only the second time.

In political terms, 42%, a plurality overall, say President Joe Biden is doing “too little” to try to reform police practices in this country. Thirty-two percent in this poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, say he’s doing the right amount, while many fewer, 15%, say he’s doing too much.

See PDF for full results, charts and tables.

The survey overlapped the trial and conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin for murdering George Floyd on a Minneapolis street last May. Public concern about police misconduct rose after Floyd’s death and the protests that followed. This survey shows that substantial concerns remain:

  • Just 44% are very or somewhat confident that the police are trained adequately to avoid using excessive force, similar to last summer (47%) and down 10 percentage points from the first time it was asked in late 2014 after a grand jury declined to hand up an indictment in the police killing of Eric Garner.

  • A new question asked if the country should do more to hold police accountable for mistreatment of Black people or, alternatively, is doing too much to interfere in how officers do their job. The result is nearly 2-to-1 for more accountability, 60-33%.

  • The public long has doubted that Black people and other minorities receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system; only once in a dozen polls since 1988 did a majority say this was so. Still, the share who say equal treatment is lacking now exceeds 6 in 10 only for the second time.

On a separate issue concerning treatment of Black people, 65% of Americans oppose reparations, that is, the federal government paying money to Black people whose ancestors were slaves as compensation for that slavery. Support reaches 67% among Black people, dropping to 35% among Hispanics and 18% among whites. A House committee last week recommended creating a commission to study the question.

Racial/ethnic gaps

Racial and ethnic gaps are evident, but less wide, in views on policing and racial justice. For example, 53% of whites favor doing more to hold police accountable, rising to 67% of Hispanics and 83% of Black people. (While the sample of Black people is small, all differences described in this report are statistically significant.)

In another example, 57% of whites say that Black people and other minorities do not receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system; that rises to 68% of Hispanics and 88% of Black people. It was slightly higher among white people last July, 62%, reaching a majority of whites for the first time then and remaining a majority now.

Gaps also are present in confidence in police training to avoid excessive violence. Whites divide on this question, with 50% more confident, 48% less so. That compares with 34-65% among Hispanics and 20-79% among Black people.

Police reform

At the same time, there’s general agreement among racial and ethnic groups in views of Biden’s efforts on police reform. Forty-nine percent of Black people, 42% of Hispanic people and 40% of white people say he’s doing too little in this regard. Nineteen percent of whites say he’s doing too much; that goes to single digits among Hispanics (7%) and Black people (4%).

The biggest differences on police reform, unsurprisingly, are political and ideological: Thirty-four percent of Republicans and 31% of conservatives say Biden is doing too much, peaking at 42% of conservative Republicans. Nonetheless, as many Republicans and conservatives say he’s doing too little to try to reform police practices as say he’s doing too much.

Partisan gaps

There also are sharp gaps in perceptions on police and racial justice issues on the basis of partisanship, ideology and related variables. Some of these reflect the racial and ethnic makeup of these groups: Just 17% of Republicans are racial and ethnic minorities, compared with 36% of independents and 50% of Democrats.

Specifically, 52% of Republicans think that Black people and other minorities receive equal treatment as whites in the criminal justice system; many fewer independents (30%) or Democrats (10%) agree. It’s 55% among conservatives, peaking at 74% of those who say they are very conservative. It’s 58% among evangelical white Protestants, versus 36% of white Protestants who are not evangelicals. This view also is 18 points higher among rural residents than others. In another gap, men are 16 points more apt than women to see equal treatment as currently existing.

There are similar political and ideological gaps in confidence the police are trained adequately to avoid excessive force. Seventy-two percent of Republicans think so, compared with 43% of independents and 25% of Democrats. It’s 80% among very conservative Americans and 69% among conservatives overall, compared with 40% among moderates and 18% among liberals. And 74% of evangelical white Protestants think the police are trained adequately, versus 49% of non-evangelical white Protestants.

These divisions hold in the shares of people who prioritize making police accountable for mistreatment of Black people. It’s 85% among Democrats, compared with 58% among independents and 31% among Republicans. It’s also 85% among liberals, and 65% among moderates, versus 36% among conservatives, including 23% among those who are very conservative. And 56% of non-evangelical white Protestants focus on police accountability, compared with 33% of their evangelical counterparts.


This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone April 18 to 21, 2021, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,007 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points, including the design effect. Margins of error are smaller for subgroups, for example, 4.2 points for white people (n=703), 10.8 points for Hispanic people (n=106) and 11.8 points for Black people (n=88) in the sample. Partisan divisions are 33-24-35%, Democrats-Republicans-independents.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Md. See details on the survey’s methodology here.

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