The “defund the police” movement has degrees of intensity. Some supporters want to reallocate some policing money to other community services. The poll got at that nuance, asking people whether they support or oppose “reducing the budget of the police department in your community, even if that means fewer police officers, if the money is shifted to programs related to mental health, housing, and education?”
There, too, the message was clear: No. Sixty percent of Americans said they’d oppose that, too, with slightly more than the previous question — 39 percent — saying they’d support reallocating money.
This debate is already playing out in the real world. The Minneapolis City Council is making moves to disband its troubled police department in the wake of Floyd’s killing there, in favor of an as-yet-unspecified public safety organization. Officials from Washington to Los Angeles are seriously considering how to scale back their police departments, The Post reports. School districts are cutting ties with police.
You can see why President Trump and some House Republicans have tried to weaponize this call from protesters against Democrats: It sounds like an extreme idea, and the American public agrees.
But here’s the potentially tricky politics for Democrats, who are aiming to capitalize on the diverse, mostly young coalition of protesters coming out in every state in support of policing changes. That poll finds that black Americans support the defund/reallocate policy proposals — by about the same margin that the nation as a whole opposes it.
This nationwide movement is in part about white awakening to the ever-present discriminatory and racist aspects of society for black Americans. So if a majority of black Americans support one of the first major policy proposals to come out of the protests, well, how do political leaders brush that off without repercussions?
Even before this poll came out, former vice president Joe Biden was quick to get on the side of broader public opinion on this issue. He unequivocally said this week that he doesn’t support the idea and has pointed to his policing plan that proposes more funding for body cameras, for example.
“No. I don’t support defunding the police,” Biden told CBS’s Norah O’Donnell on Monday night. “I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness and, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community, and everybody in the community.”
Democrats in Congress weren’t quite as forceful as Biden in dismissing defunding the police, as they introduced their Justice in Policing Act this week. But they noticeably weren’t embracing this call from protesters. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said police spending would be up to localities to decide.
Republican lawmakers have expressed openness for changing policing, too — the Senate’s only black Republican, Tim Scott of South Carolina, is putting together a package for his caucus to get behind that could contain elements of agreement with House Democrats’ plan.
But in part because Republicans have spent decades categorizing themselves as the “law and order” party, and in part because Trump has taken such a hard line against protesters, Republicans are at much less risk of being tagged as supporting defunding the police than Democrats. They have instead been trying to weaponize it against Democrats, with Trump and others seeking to paint them as aligned with the movement.
This movement is gaining momentum in protests, just as Democrats are finding the momentum at their back five months before November’s elections. Polls show them favorites to keep the majority in the House, Biden leading in key swing states to win the White House and, in a really good election year for Democrats, they could narrow Republicans’ majority in the Senate or even take it over.
Biden has said he needs black voters, particularly in states like Georgia and North Carolina, to help him make it to the White House.
But what might seem like a relatively easy political call — distancing themselves from defunding the police — could get more complicated for Democrats.