Support for defunding the police collapsed in 2021, with steep drops among Black adults and Democrats, new poll shows

Defund the Police protest
A Defund and Abolish the Police protest outside Toronto police headquarters, July 16, 2020. Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images
  • Public opinion on defunding the police took a major turn in 2021 compared to 2020.
  • New year-to-year polling from Pew Research shows sharp drops among Democrats and Black adults.
  • People age 18 to 49 are also less in favor of decreasing police funding compared to a year ago.

After a strong onset of support among some groups, public opinion around defunding the police has taken a sharp downward turn in 2021, according to new data from Pew Research.

In a year-to-year poll, Pew found more Americans want to increase police funding in 2021 compared to 2020. The most notable drops in support were among Black adults and people age 18 to 49, both of which had plurality support when Pew asked the same question about police funding last year.

Now, Black and young adults have a minority of support behind decreasing police funding.

Just 23% of Black respondents said they support decreased police funding this year, down from 42% in 2020. For young adults, support for decreased funding went from 34% to 23%.

The September 2021 poll was conducted among 10,371 respondents with a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points. When referring to the 2020 data, Pew cites a similar survey from July of that year.

“Defund the police” was the subject of intense debate as a slogan when it broke into the mainstream in the summer of 2020 after the police murder of George Floyd. Some proponents argued it meant shifting resources from police departments to social services, while others saw it more strictly as reducing funding or even abolishing the police.

When asked specifically if they would prefer to see police funding increased, decreased, or kept the same, just 25% of Democrats said they would like to see it reduced, down from a plurality of 41% in 2020.

“Since 2020, the views of Black Americans and Democrats have changed more than the views of White and Hispanic adults and Republicans when it comes to decreasing funding for local police,” the Pew authors wrote in the summary of the poll.

A rise in public concern around violent crime is one potential factor behind the shift cited by Pew. In 2020, the latest year available, the nation-wide murder rate spiked 30% according to FBI statistics – the largest increase since records-keeping began decades ago.

In June 2020, just 41% of respondents agreed violent crime “is a very big problem in the country today.” That number shot up to 61% by a July 2021 survey.