“Defunding the Police” Remains Big Online, but Shrinks in the Hearts of Americans

According to a recent study conducted by Pew Research, 47% of Americans believe their local police corps should receive a larger budget in 2022. This represents a significant increase over last year’s sentiments, as well as a stark wake-up call for leaders of the “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police” movements.

Attitudes on Police Shift Again

Between April 2020 and August 2021, a series of well-publicized protests across America brought public support for the police to historical laws. During its sharpest points, approximately 68% of Americans opposed increasing police or security budgets. 

However, attitudes began to shift over the last quarter of 2021. As economic activities picked up, so did criminal ones. The increase in violent crime has brought safety and security forward in the public’s list of priorities.

By October 2021, the number of people who wanted to see increased funding for the police went up to 46%. Furthermore, 21% stated they wanted these budgets “increased a lot.” For comparison, just 12 months prior, only 11% of respondents said they wanted a significant increase in police budgets.

#DefundThePolice: What Does it Really Mean?

It is clear that the “defund the police” slogan is not as widely accepted as Twitter trending topics would make it appear. The term jumped to fame around July 2020, following a series of protests linked to the Black Lives Matter movement.

In the public discourse, #DefundThePolice and #BlackLivesMatter are often treated as synonymous, or at the very least, as closely related. In reality, some of the theories behind “defunding the police” date back to the 1960s and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s original War on Crime. Some social theorists began discussing the need to allocate funds to rehabilitation and re-education programs instead of more frequent patrols or sophisticated weaponry.

However, after the 2020 protests, the idea of “defunding the police” became louder and more extreme. The sharp cuts demanded by activists ignored the realities of many small towns in Middle America, where Police Departments provide a plethora of social services, from emergency rescues to conflict resolution.

Is Police Funding a New Way to Divide the Nation?

Protests in large urban centers often seem to directly contradict the close, tightly-knit relationships between police and citizens in smaller towns. As a result, the debate around police funding is felt differently across different states and social circles.

According to the original Pew Research study, there are significant demographic differences between those who wish to increase police funding and those who would diminish it. People of African and Asian descent are less likely to support increased police funding. In addition, people over the age of 49 or who identify as Republicans are significantly more likely to support police funding.

Yet, the overall movement towards increased funding seems to affect all groups. For example, in June 2020, only 26% of people between 18 and 49 supported increasing police spending, and by October 2021, this percentage moved to3%. Among those who lean Democrat, support for police spending rose from 19% to 34% in the same period.

An opposite shift among those who want to decrease police funding can be seen among all political affiliations, age brackets, and ethnicities. If in June 2020, 34% of young people and 42% of African American Democrats wanted net spending to decrease, by October 2021, this share shifted to 23% for both groups.

Better equipment, more funds, and safer streets: Middle America’s Wish

The public desire for better-equipped and well-funded Police Departments goes hand in hand with the fear of violent crime. As of July 2021, over 60% of American adults stated that violent crime was a significant problem in their communities. Just a year before, only 41% had thought the same.

Other commonly-listed concerns, such as homelessness, the Federal budget deficit, and illegal immigration, now all seem to take a backseat to violent crime. This seems understandable from a psychological perspective: according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety always feels more urgent than justice or self-actualization.


Grassroots Pulse covers public policy and political issues aimed at engaging highly-active policy makers, donors, and grassroots leaders at the forefront of the political process in America today.

Image Credit: Photo by Spencer H on Unsplash

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