A majority of Americans say they approve of recent protests around the country and many think they’ll bring positive change. And despite headline-making standoffs between law enforcement and protesters in cities nationwide, the poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds a majority of Americans think law enforcement officers have generally responded to the protests appropriately. Somewhat fewer say the officers used excessive force.
Views differ based on partisanship with 79% of Democrats approving of the protests while just 29% of Republicans and 37% of independents say the same. This partisan difference emerges even among white Americans: 86% of white Democrats approve of the protests while just 30% of white Republicans agree.
In terms of direct participation, 13% of black Americans report having personally participated in protests or demonstrations compared to 6% of white Americans.
Partisanship colors how people perceive the nature of the protests as well. About a quarter of Americans say that the protests were mostly peaceful, and around half say they were both peaceful and violent. Nearly a quarter say they were mostly violent. Democrats are most likely to say that the protests were generally peaceful, while few Republicans and independents agree. While black Americans are far more likely than whites to perceive the protests as generally peaceful, these differences wash away once partisanship is controlled for.
Americans are also divided in their evaluations of law enforcement’s response to the protests. Black Americans are almost twice as likely as white Americans to say they responded with excessive force to the protests.
Americans are critical of the president’s response to the protests. Over half of all Americans say his response made things worse and just 12% say it made things better. While there are racial differences, about half of both white Americans (51%) and black Americans (72%) feel that the president’s response made things worse. In comparison, 83% of Americans think the response of their state’s governor either made things better or made no difference.
There is some optimism about the impact of the protests. More Americans say they will change the country for the better (44%) than change it for the worse (21%). But 33% don’t expect them to have much impact either way. Black Americans are more likely than white Americans to expect positive change.
The nationwide poll was conducted June 11-15, 2020 using the AmeriSpeak® Panel, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. Online and telephone interviews using landlines and cell phones were conducted with 1,310 adults. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3.7 percentage points.
In addition, black adults were sampled at a higher rate than their proportion of the population for reasons of analysis. The overall margin of sampling error for the 377 completed interviews with black respondents is +/- 5.3 percentage points.