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How Americans Feel About George Floyd’s Death And The Protests

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

This week, we have some of the first polls on how Americans feel about the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, and the protests that have cropped up across the U.S. in response.

On the one hand, an overwhelming majority of Americans say Floyd’s death was wrong and the police officers involved should be held accountable. There is also some support for the frustration and anger that sparked the protests, and a majority of Americans now agree that there are vast racial inequities in policing. But public opinion on the protests themselves is more muddled and suggests that Americans have mixed views of the protesters and their right to demonstrate, much of which falls along familiar partisan lines.

First, the public pretty clearly thinks the police were in the wrong. A Yahoo News/YouGov survey, for instance, found that 84 percent of Americans strongly or somewhat approved of the firing of the officers involved in Floyd’s death, and 68 percent said they approved of charging former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes, with murder. Similarly, 65 percent of respondents in a Data for Progress poll said that Chauvin murdered Floyd; 25 percent of respondents said his death was partly a product of excessive force “but not murder,” and just 10 percent said it was a “tragic accident.”

Additionally, most Americans said that policing is biased against African Americans. In a new survey from Monmouth University, 57 percent said police were more likely to use excessive force in difficult situations if the suspect is black, while just 33 percent said police were equally likely to use excessive force against white people and black people. Similarly, 57 percent of respondents in a new CBS News/YouGov survey said police in most communities treat white people better than black people. Thirty-nine percent said police treat both races equally. On top of this, 61 percent of Americans said race was a “major factor” in Floyd’s death, according to the Yahoo News/YouGov survey. There was a big partisan gap in how respondents answered this question though: 87 percent of Democrats said race was a major factor compared with just 39 percent of Republicans.

More broadly, the public appears receptive to why people are protesting. Fifty-seven percent of respondents in the Monmouth poll felt that, regardless of their actions, protesters’ anger was “fully justified,” while 21 percent said it was “partially justified” and 18 percent said it was “not at all justified.” And 64 percent told Reuters/Ipsos that they were sympathetic to those participating in the protests, while a Morning Consult poll found that 54 percent of adults supported “the protest in general” while 22 percent opposed it.

However, Americans had mixed views on what has happened during the protests, and many have expressed disapproval of protests that have been violent or destructive. Forty-five percent of respondents told Morning Consult that, on the whole, most of the protesters are peaceful and desire meaningful social reform, while 42 percent said most protesters are trying to incite violence or destroy property. In Monmouth’s poll, only 17 percent felt the actions of the protesters were fully justified, 37 percent said they were partially justified and 38 percent said they weren’t justified at all. And the Reuters/Ipsos survey found that most Americans (72 percent) didn’t think violent protests were an appropriate response to Floyd’s killing, and that property damage caused by protesters undermined their goals (79 percent). Morning Consult’s survey also found that Americans were less supportive of the protests when they were specifically asked about black people protesting.

Americans across the political spectrum said they approved of some of the more forceful responses from local and state authorities. In Morning Consult’s poll, 70 percent said they supported curfews and 66 percent backed calling in the national guard to aid city police, with large majorities of both Democrats and Republicans approving these measures. Fifty-five percent of respondents even supported calling in the U.S. military, although there was a substantial partisan split on this question, with 74 percent of Republicans approving compared with 48 percent of Democrats.

As for President Trump’s handling of the protests, Americans largely gave him a thumbs down. The CBS News/YouGov poll found that 32 percent approved of Trump’s response while 49 percent disapproved, and Reuters/Ipsos found that 33 percent approved while 56 percent disapproved. Although Trump usually has overwhelming backing from Republicans on most job approval questions, there were some signs that at least a few GOP voters were breaking with him on this issue. The CBS News/YouGov survey found that 65 percent approved of how he’s handling the situation — far lower than the 84 percent who approve of how he’s handling the coronavirus pandemic, for example — while 14 percent disapproved. Similarly, in the Reuters/Ipsos poll, 20 percent disapproved while 67 percent approved.

There could be electoral repercussions to the protests and the president’s response to them. Monmouth’s survey found that 74 percent of Americans felt the country was on the wrong track, the largest share since Monmouth first asked the question nationally in 2013. And as a result of Floyd’s death and the protests, 45 percent of registered voters told Morning Consult they were more likely to now vote for former Vice President Joe Biden. However, another 31 percent said they’d be more likely to vote for Trump. And at this point, it’s hard to imagine that George Floyd’s death won’t be an important factor in the election.

Other polling bites

  • This month marks the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that made same-sex marriage legal across the country, and Gallup’s latest data finds that 67 percent of Americans believe gay marriage should be legal, tying record-high support in 2018. Overall, this reflects a remarkable shift in public opinion. In 1996, 68 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage, while just 27 percent supported it.
  • A new report from the Pew Research Center says that religion is increasingly becoming a dividing line between Democrats and Republicans. Only 52 percent of Democrats identified as Christian in 2019, down from 73 percent in 2008, while 79 percent of Republicans identified as Christian last year, down 8 percentage points from 87 percent more than a decade ago.
  • As many states and municipalities start to reopen after closing up shop to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a new ABC News/Washington Post survey reveals that many Americans are still hesitant to resume their pre-pandemic activities. Fifty-eight percent said it was still “too early” to visit stores, restaurants and other public places, and 57 percent said it was more important to control the spread of the coronavirus than to restart the economy, compared with 37 percent who said that restarting the economy was more important.
  • However, Gallup finds that Americans aren’t quite as worried about being exposed to the coronavirus when they visit medical providers now compared with how they felt in late March and early April. Back then, 84 percent said they were “very” or “moderately” concerned about exposure at a doctor’s office or hospital, whereas now just 64 percent said they were concerned.
  • In the wake of Trump’s executive order targeting social media fact-checking policies, fewer Americans said they wanted Trump banned from a social media platform if he spread offensive content compared with last year, according to a new poll from Morning Consult. Just 24 percent said they wanted him banned, which is down from 38 percent in August 2019. (But the share who approved of a temporary suspension of his account remained relatively the same, 35 percent versus 36 percent.) The weaker support for a ban was driven primarily by Americans who voted for Trump in 2016. In 2019, 26 percent of Trump voters supported a ban compared with just 13 percent in 2020.
  • The U.S. Senate race in Kansas is heating up, and a new survey from Democratic pollster Civiqs suggests it could be competitive in November despite the state’s Republican lean. Presumptive Democratic nominee Barbara Bollier was in a dead heat against three Republican contenders, holding just a 1-point lead over two of them — former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and businessman Bob Hamilton — while trailing Rep. Roger Marshall by 1 point. In the GOP primary, the poll gave Kobach an edge over Marshall (35 percent to 26 percent), with Hamilton in third at 15 percent.
  • A new survey from Republican pollster Cygnal suggests that there may not be a runoff for the Democratic nomination in Georgia’s regularly scheduled U.S. Senate election. The poll found journalist and former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff at nearly 49 percent in the June 9 primary race, just shy of the majority he needs to avoid an Aug. 11 runoff. Meanwhile, former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson had about 16 percent, and 2018 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor Sarah Riggs Amico had around 8 percent.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 41.9 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.1 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -11.2 points). At this time last week, 42.6 percent approved and 53.6 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -11.0 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 43.3 percent and a disapproval rating of 51.1 percent, for a net approval rating of -7.8 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 7.8 percentage points (48.7 percent to 40.9 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 7.7 points (48.2 percent to 40.5 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 7.7 points (48.0 percent to 40.3 percent).

FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast: Protests, then and now

Geoffrey Skelley is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.