Americans’ confidence in police appears shaken after a wave of national protests following Floyd’s killing. Compared with 2014, fewer Americans say they are confident that police are adequately trained to avoid using excessive force. Meanwhile, more people say recent police killings of black people are “a sign of broader problems” in police conduct.
More than 6 in 10 white people, a group that constitutes the vast majority of Trump’s supporters, say minorities do not receive treatment equal to white people in the criminal justice system, according to The Washington Post-ABC News poll. And more than half — 54 percent — of white people support Black Lives Matter, an anti-racism movement critical of police violence that the president has questioned since before he arrived in the Oval Office.
The share of white independents, a group Trump won in the 2016 election, that now says black people and other minorities do not receive treatment equal to white people in the criminal justice system is 65 percent — up 24 percent from 2014, around the time of the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York, both African Americans.
And the number of Republicans who believe the deaths of black men at the hands of police is the result of broader, not isolated, problems is nearly 50 percent — up about 30 percent from 2014.
But Trump seems to reject the very idea that police violence against black people is a serious issue. In a recent interview with CBS News, he appeared to dismiss the concern that anti-black racism is a problem in America’s police departments.
“Why are African Americans still dying at the hands of law enforcement in this country?” interviewer Catherine Herridge asked Trump.
“And so are white people,” the president replied. “So are white people. What a terrible question to ask. So are white people — more white people, by the way. More white people.”
Trump may be approaching his reelection campaign with a strategy that prioritizes connecting with the base that sent him to the White House in 2016 in part because of their anxieties about the changing culture in America. But that base alone is not very big. Only a quarter of Americans are Republicans, according to the most recent Gallup poll. As concern about police violence and race relations become more widespread — even among those who are most loyal to Trump — the number of voters in the president’s base who are beginning to view race matters differently than him is growing.
This is not to say Trump is losing his base on cultural issues. Large percentages of those who continue to back him do so in part because they see him as a culture warrior in their battle for America’s future — and they align ideologically. For example, The Post poll shows that most Republicans and white people oppose removing public statues honoring Confederate soldiers — one of the culture wars Trump has zoomed in on most recently.
But the results of November’s election are expected to be close, especially in some of the swing states Trump won in 2016. As was the case in that election, the difference between victory and defeat in 2020 could be a few percentage points, which could come from those who previously supported Trump.
The president is largely viewed as responding insufficiently to today’s biggest cultural issues, something that has led to his declining numbers with groups who have supported him more passionately in the past. He arguably cannot afford to lose a significant percentage of his base if he wants to be reelected. Current polls shows that the president may not be as in sync with those Americans as he is often viewed as being.