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Confidence in Police Back at Historical Average

Confidence in Police Back at Historical Average

by Jim Norman
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Overall confidence returns to its 25-year average
  • Hispanics, liberals and those younger than 35 have become less confident
  • Already-wide gap between conservatives, liberals keeps growing

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Overall confidence in the police has risen slightly in the past two years, with 57% of Americans now saying they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in law enforcement -- matching the overall average for the 25-year Gallup trend.

Overall Confidence in Police Rebounds in 2016, 2017

The return to the historical average comes after confidence edged downward during the tumultuous years of 2014 and 2015. Overall confidence fell from 57% in 2013 to 53% in June 2014, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman's acquittal led to the founding of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Confidence in police then dropped to a record-tying low of 52% in June 2015, as the Black Lives Matter movement gained national attention with a series of protests against police shootings of unarmed blacks in New York City; Ferguson, Missouri; and North Charleston, South Carolina. As violence continued over the past two years -- with fatal police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, followed by deadly attacks on police in Dallas and Baton Rouge by black men -- the percentage of Americans confident in the police climbed back to 56% in June 2016 and to 57% last month. Only two other institutions (the military and small business) of the 15 others measured this year scored higher than the police.

Overall Rise in Confidence Masks Drop Among Hispanics, Liberals, Younger Adults

Though the overall numbers have rebounded, the years of national turmoil have only deepened the divide in the confidence that Americans of different ages, ethnicities and political beliefs say they have in the police. The loss of confidence is most apparent among Hispanics, liberals and those younger than age 35.

Confidence in Police Rebounds for Some Groups, Drops for Others
Percentage who have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the police
  2012-2014 2015-2017
  % %
U.S. adults 55 54
Race and ethnicity  
Hispanics 59 45
Blacks 35 30
Whites 58 61
Liberals 51 39
Moderates 56 53
Conservatives 59 67
18-34 56 44
35-54 53 54
55 and older 58 63
Party ID  
Democrats and leaners 52 44
Republicans and leaners 64 69

The overall percentage of Americans who said they were confident in the police changed little from 2012-2014 (55%) to 2015-2017 (54%). But major differences have emerged among various subgroups over the past three years.

The 2015-2017 polling, conducted in the wake of national protests in response to the 2014-2015 police shootings, shows a widespread loss of confidence among groups that generally are in line politically with blacks -- Democrats and independents who lean Democratic, Hispanics, liberals and those younger than age 35. Confidence among Republicans and Republican leaners, whites, conservatives and those aged 55 or older has been stable or has increased slightly. As a result, gaps between groups are now evident by age, ethnicity and ideology, along with a larger gap by party affiliation.

The difference is especially pronounced between liberals (39% confident in 2015-2017) and conservatives (67% confident). And in the June 2017 poll, the percentage of liberals who are confident is down to 38%, the lowest since at least 2000, while conservatives are at 73%, their highest mark going back to 2000.

Bottom Line

On the surface, Americans' confidence in the police appears strong and steady when compared with other U.S. institutions. In the 25 years Gallup has measured it, the percentage having a great deal or quite a lot of confidence has never varied by more than seven percentage points from the average of 57%. Confidence in the police has exceeded the average for all institutions by at least 10 points every year since the question was first asked in 1993.

A closer look, however, reveals a troubling loss of confidence among key groups in U.S. society. Police already must deal with low levels of trust among blacks, and a similar situation may be occurring among Hispanics. The lack of confidence among younger Americans could presage a growing loss of respect for police in the future. The continuing drop in confidence among liberals is already producing political repercussions.

Beyond those specific possible consequences, the loss of confidence among these groups creates yet another gap between young and old, whites and Hispanics, and conservatives and liberals, marking how divided the nation has become.

These data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 7-11, 2017, with a random sample of 1,009 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

The combined polls from 2015 through 2017 include 3,563 respondents. The 2012-2014 combined polls include 3,560 respondents. The margin of sampling error for both groups of polls is ±2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The combined polls from 2001-2011 include 10,949 respondents, with a margin of sampling error of ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level. The smallest subgroup sample in any of the combined polls was the Hispanic sample in the 2012-2014 combined poll, with a margin of sampling error of ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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