A new nationwide poll conducted in part by Roanoke College finds more Americans have a generally positive opinion of local police than those who do not. But from there, the survey finds some major differences, as WLNI’s Evan Jones reports:

07-08 Roanoke Poll Wrap-WLNI WEB

NEWS RELEASE: Pluralities of residents of the United States are satisfied with the performance of their local police department (45%) and think they are staffed appropriately (36%), according to a Reconnect Research/Roanoke College Poll. More respondents report that they or a family member have been helped by police in a dangerous situation (40%) than have been harassed by police (27%). A majority (54%) of those responding think that police are just as likely to use excessive force against Black or white people, while 43 percent think police are more likely to use excessive force against a Black person. The Reconnect Research/Roanoke College Poll interviewed 1,917 residents nationwide between June 18 and June 23.

Fewer than one-in-five (19%) respondents are dissatisfied with how their local police are doing their job, and 19 percent think there are too many police in their neighborhood, but almost twice as many (34%) think there are not enough police.

African-Americans are twice as likely as whites to report themselves or a family member being harassed by police and more than twice as likely to think that police are more likely to use excessive force against Blacks, and they are less than half as likely as whites to be satisfied with their local police. Yet, their experience (or a family member) of being helped by police and their view of local police staffing are similar to that of whites. Democrats and Republicans tend to agree on local police staffing, but Democrats are only about half as likely to be satisfied with their local police and more than three times as likely to think that police use force disproportionately against Blacks. They are also twice as likely as Republicans to report harassment by police. Opinions of Independents are closer to those of Democrats than to Republicans.

Race relations

Most residents (69%) agree that racial and ethnic discrimination in the United States is a problem, and 81 percent of those who think it is a problem see it as a big problem. A majority (52%) believes that race relations are worse since Donald Trump became president, while only 18 percent think relations have improved.

Two-thirds (67%) of respondents think the anger that led to the nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis was justified. Not surprisingly, less than one-third (28%) think the looting of businesses was at least partially justified. And respondents are more likely to think that President Trump has made the situation worse (48%) rather than better (17%) since the protests started.

Regarding race relations, there are large disparities between the opinions of whites and Blacks, and, in most cases, the differences between Republicans and Democrats are even greater. Views among various groups are closest regarding protesters, with a majority of each subgroup seeing the anger as justified but looting as not justified. Both race and partisan disagreement is greatest in questions dealing with President Trump, but it is large in other questions as well, though less than in questions dealing with law enforcement.

President Trump and the nation

Poll respondents were slightly more likely to disapprove (47%) of the job performance of Trump than to approve (44%), but, as is seen throughout this survey, there were large differences between races (53% of whites approve of Trump; 24% of Blacks approve) and parties (80% of Republicans approve compared to only 19% of Democrats). Similarly, Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to think the country is going in the right direction (59% vs. 18%), and the same is true for whites and Blacks (39% vs. 16%). Overall, more than half of those surveyed (60%) think the country is going in the wrong direction.


“While a plurality of U.S. residents are satisfied with the performance of their local police, there are large differences when looking at the opinions of partisan and racial subgroups,” said Dr. Harry Wilson, director of Roanoke College’s Institute for Policy and Opinion Research. “Even groups who are unhappy with the performance of their local police tend to think there are not enough police rather than too many.”

“A majority of those polled see race discrimination as a problem (and those who do see it as a big problem) and think the anger felt by protestors was justified while looting was not. Subgroups differences are evident here also, although they are not as great as the differences regarding law enforcement.”

“The partisan and race differences seen here are common in all political polls. While we might say that it seems at times that Blacks and whites live in different countries, it is often the case that Democrats and Republicans inhabit different planets.”


Interviewing for The Reconnect Research/Roanoke College Poll was conducted between June 18 and June 23, 2020. A total of 1,917 U.S. residents provided substantive responses to at least five of ten key questions and are included in this analysis. Telephone interviews were conducted in English and Spanish, with 8 percent of interviews conducted in Spanish. Survox, by Enghouse Interactive, conducted the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) data collection. Reconnect Research provided the Redirected Inbound Call Sampling (RICS) sample for this survey.

The national sample of the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii, consisted of adults aged 18 years or older, who were placing a telephone call. The sampling frame was a set of phone calls that were placed 24 hours a day during the fielding period in which the call did not reach its intended party and was redirected by the telephone service company handling the call to Reconnect Research. When someone dialed a nonworking number, rather than playing an “error” message and ending the call, the caller was redirected to the survey recruitment and data collection system.

The introductory IVR script that was used to screen and recruit respondents is included in the topline. A total of 45,853 redirected calls were used for this survey. Of the 45,853 calls, 2,886 started the questionnaire or 6.3%.  Of the 45,853 calls, 1,959 answered the final substantive question of the survey or 4.3%. Any respondent who did not provide a substantive response to at least five questions, excluding demographics, was removed from the data set, yielding a total of 1,917 respondents.

Reconnect Research developed the questionnaire, with The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research (IPOR) review and supplied IPOR with a weighted dataset. To reduce the likelihood of nonignorable primacy effects (which is common with IVR data collection) in the final data, some questions had their response options spoken in a reverse order a random half of the time. IPOR and Reconnect Research analyzed some of the findings independent of each other.

RICS produces a nonprobability sample, which research has suggested does quite well in terms of representing the U.S. national population. RICS unweighted final samples often have a considerably larger portion of low-educational attainment and minority respondents than the unweighted final samples for outbound telephone surveys. On other demographic characteristics, RICS unweighted final samples match population parameters, including geographic location, fairly well.

The data were statistically weighted for geographic location, gender, education, age, race, Hispanicity, language of the respondent, and political party affiliation based on the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau. The design effect (deff) associated with the weighting was 1.24.

Nonprobability samples do not allow the use of a traditional margin of sampling error. If this was a probability sample, which it is not, the estimate of sampling error would be approximately ±2.5 pp, including the design effect. However, there is no margin of error associated with this survey.

A copy of the questionnaire, topline, and select crosstabs may be found here.