DETROIT – As a national reckoning over racism and policing grips the nation, white Democrats are far more likely now than they were a few years ago to think police brutality is a serious issue — a dramatic shift in public opinion that some say could shape the November presidential election.
A majority of white Democrats today say police officers are more likely to use deadly force against a Black person than against a white person, according to a recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, not unlike five years ago.
But for the first time, the poll shows significant changes in how white Democrats view police brutality and the consequences: 64% now describe police violence against the public as very or extremely serious, compared with 29% in July 2015.
Race and policing in America have been thrust into an international spotlight amid an already tumultuous presidential campaign after a series of high-profile police killings of Black Americans that has sparked global protests and demands for structural change. The campaign had already been fraught with racial tension fueled by the coronavirus pandemic and its ensuing economic fallout, which both have disproportionately impacted people of color.
While racial inequity has long been a focal point of African Americans, experts say many white Americans, particularly white Democrats, are now grappling with the longstanding impacts of systemic racism in ways they never have before.
San Diego resident Chris Chapman, a white woman and a Democrat, said witnessing George Floyd’s death was particularly jarring for her.
“I think the brutality of that event, it really raised the consciousness, at least for me,” Chapman, 68, said. “It shocked people who really hadn’t yet gotten to the place where they thought that could happen.”
Most white Democrats say that they disapprove of President Donald Trump’s handling of racial issues and that he has only sowed further division at a time of immense unrest. Trump on Sunday tweeted and later deleted a video showing one of his supporters chanting “white power,” a racist slogan associated with white supremacists.