Police violence a rising concern for Millennials, new poll shows
Seven in 10 Millennials call police violence against African Americans a problem, and even more express concern about the safety of police officers.
WASHINGTON — In the wake of highly publicized incidents of police shootings of African Americans this year, members of the Millennial generation increasingly identify police brutality and criminal-justice reform as a top priority for the next president.
The third in an election-year series of USA TODAY/Rock the Vote polls of Americans under 35 finds the economy and jobs still the dominant issue, as they were in surveys taken in January and March. But nearly one in four now cite law-enforcement concerns as one of the most important issues. Only the economy, college affordability and national security are mentioned more often.
More than seven in 10 say police violence against blacks is a problem, up 10 percentage points since the January survey. The concern extends to violence against law enforcement officials as well: 78% agree they are “very concerned about the safety of police officers doing their jobs in the current political environment.”
“There is still a lot of racism going on, and I think that shows up in the form of police violence,” says Serena Potter, 19, a Purdue University student from Brownsburg, Ind. But she says several police officers she knows personally “are terrified to go to work these days” because of the threat of violence against them.
The online poll of 1,539 adults age 18-34 was taken by Ipsos Public Affairs Aug. 5-10. It has a credibility interval, akin to a margin of error, of 4.6. The survey was completed before a police officer in Milwaukee shot an armed suspect Saturday afternoon, sparking outbreaks of street violence there.
By overwhelming margins, both Clinton supporters (75%) and Trump supporters (88%) express concern about police safety. But there is a partisan divide over whether police violence against African Americans is a problem: Supporters of Clinton by more than 6-1 say it is; supporters of Trump split about equally about whether it is or not.
“The media has kind of blown it out of proportion to make police look bad, which is not right, because in some cases I think actions were justified regardless of the race of the individual they were going after,” says Andrew Piland, 31, a tech executive from San Diego. “At the same time, I think there needs to be more accountability. I do support the idea of body cameras.”
The growing concern about violence by and against police hasn’t significantly affected support for gun laws. In the new poll, 61% agree that stricter laws would help prevent gun violence, three points higher than the 58% who expressed that view in January. Trump supporters by almost 2-1 say stricter laws wouldn’t prevent gun violence; Clinton supporters by almost 5-1 say they would.
A 54% majority of Trump supporters say someone in their household owns a gun. Just 32% of Clinton supporters say there is a gun in their household.
“It is common sense that you need to control things that can easily kill people,” says Will Barkalow, 24, of Nobleboro, Maine, who supports Clinton. “We control medications, cars, all sorts of things — not to the point of making it impossible to access them, but in the sense of making sure they are as safe as possible. And that’s not something we are making an effort with guns right now, at least not on the national level.”
“I am against gun laws because, I mean, if you are going to go out and commit a crime then obviously you don’t care about the law anyway, and gun laws put law-abiding people in a very vulnerable place,” says Potter, a Trump supporter. “If someone were to break into my home with a gun, I would like to have something to protect myself.”