Police Violence and Public Opinion After George Floyd: How the Black Lives Matter Movement and Endorsements Affect Support for Reforms

AuthorScott A. MacKenzie,Cheryl Boudreau,Daniel J. Simmons
Published date01 June 2022
Date01 June 2022
Subject MatterMini-Symposium: America in the 2020 Elections
Mini-Symposium: America in the 2020 Elections
Political Research Quarterly
2022, Vol. 75(2) 497511
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129221081007
Police Violence and Public Opinion After
George Floyd: How the Black Lives Matter
Movement and Endorsements Affect
Support for Reforms
Cheryl Boudreau
, Scott A. MacKenzie
, and Daniel J. Simmons
What factors shape public opinion about government solutions to address police violence? We address this quest ion by
conducting a survey in which respondents express their opinions about actual proposals to reform police practices.
Within the survey, we randomly assign respondents to receive the positions of traditional advocates (Black lawmakers)
and/or opponents (law enforcement) of police reform efforts. Our results reveal broad bipartisan support for the
proposals, but that information about groups that support or oppose these proposals polarizes partisansopinions.
However, Democrats and even Republicans who support Black Lives Matter (BLM) express high levels of support for the
proposals regardless of the information they receive. These results suggest that partisanship in the mass public is n ot
necessarily a barrier to police reform efforts. A bipartisan majority of the public supports meaningful reforms, and any
polarizing effects of elite signals are muted by Democratsand Republicanssupport for BLM.
police violence, Black Lives Matter, endorsements, public opinion, partisanship, polari zation
In recent years, episodes of police violence involving
unarmed Black menMichael Browns death during an
altercation with a white police off‌icer in Ferguson (2014),
Freddie Grays death while in the custody of the Baltimore
Police Department (2015), the fatal shooting of Stephon
Clark in his grandmothers backyard in Sacramento
(2018)have captured the attention of public off‌icials
and ordinary citizens alike. Each of these episodes fol-
lowed a disturbingly familiar timeline: immediate con-
demnation followed by widespread protests bordering on
unrest, internal investigations resulting in none of the
police off‌icers involved being charged and convicted, and
diminished hopes for meaningful changes to police per-
sonnel and practices as opponents of reform dug in and
public attention turned elsewhere. In late May 2020, as
video of the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black
man, by Minneapolis police off‌icer Derek Chauvin while
three seemingly indifferent colleagues looked on went
viral, scholars and practitioners were already asking
whether this episode would be different.
Just over one year later, some things look different.
What began as local protests near the scene of Floyds
death mushroomed into a mass movement with tens of
millions of Americans taking to the streets in thousands of
cities and towns during a pandemic. Led by the Black
Lives Matter movement, these marches for justice at-
tracted unusual allies, including Republican senator and
2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and police
chiefs and uniformed off‌icers in Flint, Camden, Sacra-
mento, and many other places. Chauvin and the other
three off‌icers were f‌ired by the Minneapolis Police De-
partment. All four were arrested, and Chauvin was con-
victed of murdering Floyd and sentenced to 22.5 years in
prison. The other three off‌icers currently await trial. In
Minneapolis and other cities, local off‌icials are
Department of Political Science, University of California, Davis, CA,
Department of Political Science, Saint Michaels College, Colchester,
Corresponding Author:
Cheryl Boudreau, Department of Political Science, University of
California, Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, USA.
Email: clboudreau@ucdavis.edu

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