You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Texas voters against ‘defunding’ police, but more receptive to other reforms to curb misconduct

Dallas Morning News logo Dallas Morning News 7/13/2020 By Gromer Jeffers Jr., The Dallas Morning News
a group of people standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera: Protestors march during the Not My Son's rally against police brutality and racial injustice on July 4, 2020 in downtown Dallas. © Juan Figueroa/ The Dallas Morning News/The Dallas Morning News/TNS Protestors march during the Not My Son's rally against police brutality and racial injustice on July 4, 2020 in downtown Dallas.

Texas voters are against proposals to “defund” police departments but support the idea of making law enforcement officers more accountable for misconduct by eliminating their qualified immunity from lawsuits, according to a new poll by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler.

a group of football players posing for a picture: THE KNEEL -- OR, 'THE KNEEL HEARD ROUND THE WORLD?' -- Jerry Jones had a Monday Night Football stage, and he used it. Dallas Cowboys players and staff including owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett take a knee with his team before the playing of the United States National Anthem before a National Football League game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on Monday September 25, 2017. © Juan Figueroa/ The Dallas Morning News/The Dallas Morning News/TNS THE KNEEL -- OR, 'THE KNEEL HEARD ROUND THE WORLD?' -- Jerry Jones had a Monday Night Football stage, and he used it. Dallas Cowboys players and staff including owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett take a knee with his team before the playing of the United States National Anthem before a National Football League game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on Monday September 25, 2017.

The poll also shows that Texans support the right of athletes to protest social ills by kneeling during the nation anthem, but are against players exercising that right.

Voters are split on whether Confederate monuments should be removed from public spaces.

And they have a more positive impression of the Black Lives Matter movement, though a majority of Republicans still don’t have a favorable view of the group.

The death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed in May when a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck, sparked spring and summer of protests, along with calls for social change. The activism is expected to blend into the 2020 elections, which will be a referendum of President Donald Trump.

“There’s an electorate here that’s focusing on these issues,” said Mark Owens, a political scientist and pollster at UT-Tyler. “People are learning more about the social issues that have not been addressed by the president or the Congress in many years.”

Trump, who is against defunding the police, is in a tough fight with former Vice President Joe Biden for reelection. Trump signed executive orders for reform that include banning the use of chokeholds, and he followed that action with campaign ads that promote a grim view of what policing would look if he’s not president, including emergency police calls that aren’t answered. Biden also is against defunding police departments, but he embraces other reforms.

a group of people walking down a street holding a sign: Protestors march during the Not My Son's rally against police brutality and racial injustice on July 4, 2020 in downtown Dallas. © Juan Figueroa/ The Dallas Morning News/The Dallas Morning News/TNS Protestors march during the Not My Son's rally against police brutality and racial injustice on July 4, 2020 in downtown Dallas.

The News/UT-Tyler poll found Biden with a 5-point lead over Trump in Texas.

Owens said he expects social issues, along with the coronavirus pandemic, to drive the general election discussion.

“Right now individuals are listening to each other,” Owens said. “November will be an opportunity for individuals to stay engaged by voting.”

Views on police reform

After Floyd’s death, there were calls to “defund” police departments, a term that means different things to different people.

Only 27% of those polled support defunding the police without an explanation about what such a plan would involve, while 48% of respondents are opposed to defunding the police. Another 26% had no opinion.

The polls shows that 75% of Republicans are against defunding police departments, while 39% of Democrats polled support defunding police departments and 35% were against it.

Texas voters are also against replacing police departments with something new. More than half of respondents were against scrapping police departments and starting over, while 29% are in favor of starting new police departments.

Poll participants were more favorable to allocating money used for police duties to social services, with 39% supporting the idea.

“For a lot of voters, it’s about what defund means,” Owens said. “When you describe it as reallocating funds to social services, it gets a lot more support.”

Still, 42% of those polled did not support reallocating police funds for social service programs, and 20% didn’t have an opinion.

Ending police qualified immunity backed

Texas voters clearly back eliminating the qualified immunity that shields law enforcement and government officials from personal liability for constitutional violations, as long as that official didn’t break the law. A clear majority of Texas voters — 59% — support eliminating qualified immunity for police officers. Only 19% were opposed to that kind of reform. Seventy-six percent of Democrats backed the proposal, along with 42% of Republicans.

Dallas’ Sara Mokuria, co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, said Floyd’s killing has resulted in a tighter focus on policing issues.

“What has happened is the conversations that have been held in private are now being held in public,” Mokuria said. “That’s led to understanding and recognizing the issues from a different perspective.”

Mokuria said that many Americans are reluctant to embrace the need to reimagine and reconstruct police departments because police officers are portrayed in positive ways through media and cultural references, including crime-solving television programs. That creates a challenge for activists who are pushing reforms.

“People immediately have a visceral reaction to the name [defund police] because of the conditioning that has taken place in an over-policed society,” she said.

Frederick Frazier, a McKinney council member, vice president of the Dallas Police Association and member of Trump’s commission on law enforcement, said law enforcement officials are working on reforms and would support moving nonviolent duties, like responding to mental health or homeless issues, to other agencies or groups. But he said police would be needed if someone with a mental health crisis was threatening a person with a gun.

“What is a social worker going to do in that position?” Frazier asked.

He added that defunding police departments would deprive people in high crime areas of public safety services, and that eliminating qualified immunity for police officers would lead to frivolous lawsuits and a mass exodus of people from law enforcement jobs.

“We already have a court system that holds people accountable,” he said.

State Rep. Nicole Collier, chairman of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and vice chairman of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, was recently on a telephone call with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and his aides and Black Caucus Chairman Harold Dutton, D-Houston.

Collier, D-Fort Worth, said Abbott expressed interest in legislation that dealt with recruiting and training police, creating standardized policies and accountability.

She said part of the qualified immunity debate should include a better definition of what constitutes excessive force. That would allow stronger accountability measures within existing laws, and would force prosecutors out of the gray areas that sometimes prevent prosecutions.

“We’re interested in positive legislation that will create change,” she said of the Black Caucus’ view of police reforms.

The debate over police reforms is taking place on the Dallas City Council, where 10 members have asked City Manager T.C. Broadnax to study ways to adjust public safety funds.

Deputy Mayor pro tem Casey Thomas says he’s not surprised that the poll revealed uneasiness about the term “defund” the police.

“The language we’re using is reimagine public safety,” he said. “When we explain what that means, people are supportive of the concept.”

As the debate over policing continues, the poll shows the Black Lives Matter movement is more favorable than ever.

According to the survey, 43% have a favorable view of Black Lives Matter, compared to 34% of respondents with an unfavorable opinion. Twenty-three percent were neutral. Democrats were more favorable at 72%, while 60% of Republicans were unfavorable. Independents favored the group by a 42% to 33% margin.

“In the past if you said ‘Black Lives Matter’ you would be branded a terrorist,” Mokuria said, noting the change in attitude.

She added that the higher favorability of the movement should be joined with actual action on policy.

“You can’t have symbolism without substance,” she said.

To kneel or not to kneel

The debate over curbing police brutality has morphed into a discussion on whether athletes should kneel during the national anthem as a form of protest.

Unlike in 2016, when former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality, such actions have gained more support.

The poll revealed that 47% of voters support the right of players to protest by kneeling during the national anthem, while 35% did not agree that players had that right. Of Democrats, 70% support the right, compared to 24% of Republicans and 49% of independent voters. Of Republicans, 65% do not support the right of players to protest during the anthem.

But while a majority of Texans support the right of players to kneel during the anthem, most of them don’t think such actions should occur.

According to the poll, 47% of respondents did not think players should kneel, while 33% were supportive.

With NFL players set to protest during the national anthem this fall, there could be a social, generational and political clash that will climax with the November presidential election.

Powerful leaders have already reversed course in criticizing players for protesting during the national anthem. That includes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who took the extraordinary step of apologizing for not listening to NFL players during the Kaepernick controversy.

The News talked to several poll participants who are against players kneeling during the national anthem who didn’t want their names released for this story. A 66-year-old Dallas white man said he agreed with the right of players to protest but was turned off that they were doing it during a celebration of freedom and America’s core ideals.

“That somewhat is tied to the complicated question that some people have: Is this action related to police brutality?”

Thomas, the council member, said Trump created division on the issue of kneeling by linking it to patriotism or the military.

“It was never a protest against the flag,” Thomas said, adding that Americans are beginning to show more empathy for those impacted by issues like poverty and oppression.

Removing Confederate monuments

Texans were narrowly against removing Confederate monuments from public spaces, and sharply disapproving of allowing people to tear down monuments, when public officials did not.

The poll showed 43% of Texas voters disagreed with removing Confederate statues from public spaces, while 38% support the removal.

Those polled over the age of 45 were strongly against removing the statues. The survey showed 52% of people ages 45 to 65 opposed removing the statues, along with 63% of respondents over the age of 65.

Well over half of the respondents under the age of 45 supported removal of the monuments, including 57% of respondents between the ages of 35 and 44.

Younger Texans were also more apt to support police reforms and kneeling during the national anthem.

State Rep. Carl Sherman, D-DeSoto, said he hoped most Texans would come around to removing the monuments.

“By maintaining idols and symbols of hate we are endorsing their body of work as deserving of high honor,” he said. “It’s time to remove idols of men who did not love all men, nor did they believe that people of color were created equal by God.”

But most Texas voters aren’t interested in removal monuments, and a clear majority of them are against protesters pulling down statues on their own.

State Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, said he understood the view of many poll respondents.

“The violence and destruction in our nation’s cities related to monuments is terrible,” Shaheen said. “This violence must end.”

Methodology

The Dallas Morning News/UT-Tyler Poll reflects a statewide random sample of 1,909 registered voters during the eight days from June 29 through July 7. The mixed-mode sample was made up of 129 registered voters who were surveyed by the Center for Opinion Research over the phone and 1,780 registered voters who were randomly selected from a panel of registered voters who are contacted to take surveys by Dynata. The online and phone surveys were conducted in English and Spanish.

The data was weighted to be representative of the Texas registered voter population. Iterative weighting was used to balance sample demographics to the state population parameters, specifically the estimated gender, age, race/ethnicity and education of registered voters in the state using an iterated process known as raking. These parameters were derived from the 2018 Current Population Survey to reflect Texas’s electorate. The use of these weights in statistical analysis ensures that the characteristics of the sample closely reflect the characteristics of registered voters in Texas. This was done separately for the probability phone sample and the online sample, before one weight was generated by standardizing the non-probability online sample with the probability phone sample.

In this poll, the margin of sampling error for 1,909 registered voters in Texas is plus or minus 2.24 percentage points at a 95% confidence interval. The survey’s design asked additional questions of 898 registered voters who indicated they voted in the Democratic primary (margin of error: plus or minus 3.27 percentage points).

———

©2020 The Dallas Morning News

Visit The Dallas Morning News at www.dallasnews.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From Dallas Morning News

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon