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More than two months after George Floyd – but prior to Kenosha shooting – police in Wisconsin enjoy high approval rating

Support for Black Lives Matter movement has trended in opposite direction

Law enforcement officers in Kenosha during the protests and riots earlier this week.
Photo by Jim McGarity and courtesy of Racine County Eye.


Police in Wisconsin are incredibly popular, and that popularity has only increased since a police officer killed George Floyd in May, according to the most recent Marquette University Law School Poll released earlier this month. Meanwhile, support in the state for the Black Lives Matter movement dropped.

In the poll, conducted Aug. 4-9, police were viewed favorably by 76% of respondents and unfavorably by 13%. That approval rating is up from the poll conducted in June, about three weeks after Floyd’s death, which reported that 72% had a favorable view and 18% had an unfavorable view of the police.

The August poll interviewed 801 registered voters in Wisconsin by phone. The partisan divide of the respondents was nearly even.

The shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, on Sunday by a white police officer in Kenosha set off protests and riots in that city and in the state’s capital of Madison 115 miles away. Blake survived, but his attorney says he may be paralyzed for life.

Time will tell if the shooting affects the strong popularity of police in Wisconsin. The Marquette University does not announce the release schedule of its upcoming polls more than one week in advance, spokesman Kevin Conway said. But they have released a poll about every six weeks in 2020, putting a guess on the next poll at late September.

Like many swing state polls during the 2016 presidential election, the Marquette Poll incorrectly predicted that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump in Wisconsin, but generally it has a very good record and is widely considered to be of high quality.

Police in Wisconsin may have enjoyed a boost in popularity this summer, but approval of the Black Lives Matter movement has sunk.

Protesters in Kenosha on August 24, 2020.
Photo by Jim McGarity and courtesy of Racine County Eye.

While 59% of respondents to the June poll approved of the BLM movement and 27% disapproved, only 49% approved of the movement in the August poll. Those who viewed it unfavorably increased to 37%.

The Marquette Poll did not gather data about police or Black Lives Matter in earlier polls this year.

The June poll found wide disparities in how racial groups in Wisconsin viewed the police. About 76% of white respondents had a favorable view and 15% had an unfavorable view. Among Black respondents, 39% viewed police favorably and 49% unfavorably. Hispanic respondents viewed police favorably at 50% and unfavorably at 38%.

Also in the June poll, 86% reported the police make them feel mostly safe. But among Black respondents, 43% reported feeling mostly safe about the police and 44% reported feeling mostly anxious. White respondents feel mostly safe at a rate of 90%. Hispanic respondents feel mostly safe at a rate of 72%.

The registered voters surveyed in the August poll split evenly – 48% – 48% – on whether they approved of the mass protests since the death of George Floyd. That is down from June, when 61 percent approved and 36 percent disapproved.

Also in the August poll, 48% said the protests had been mostly peaceful, while 41% said they had been mostly violent. This question was not part of the June survey.

The population of Wisconsin is about 87% white, about 7% Black and about 7% Hispanic, according to self-reporting to the U.S. Census. By comparison, the country is about 76% white and 13% Black and 19% Hispanic. Hispanic is a separate category on the Census from race, so people can identify as both Hispanic and with a race like white or Black.

By a huge margin, respondents of the August poll said they opposed defunding the police, at 78%.

After Floyd’s death, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers introduced a bundle of bills aiming to establish use of force standards, like banning chokeholds, prohibiting no-knock warrants and mandating eight hours of de-escalation training for police.

At the time, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) suggested the Republican-controlled legislature wouldn’t return to session until after the November election, possibly not until next year. On Monday, the day after police shot Blake, Evers called the state legislature into a special session to address the bills.

Vos responded by announcing a “task force” to focus on “racial disparities, educational opportunities, public safety, and police policies and standards.”

“We must find a path forward as a society that brings everyone together,” he said in released statement.

Armored law enforcement vehicles at the protests and riots in Kenosha earlier this week.
Photo by Jim McGarity and courtesy of Racine County Eye.

Noting the bills introduced by Democrats in June, State Rep. Daniel Riemer (D-Milwaukee) wrote on Twitter that “the time for taskforces on racial disparities has long passed.”

“It’s time for actual action,” he wrote.

When the governor called a special session in April to address the spring primary election in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Republicans followed the law by starting the session, then immediately ended it with the slam of a gavel.

State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), a former police officer who heads the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, also unveiled a package of bills on Wednesday aimed at improving policing in Wisconsin.

Some laws and policy regarding policing in Wisconsin are already somewhat progressive, at least compared to the rest of the country. In 2014, Wisconsin became the first state to mandate independent investigation of cop-related deaths. The state also has a “bad cop” registry, which requires law enforcement agencies report officers to the state Department of Justice who quit due to an investigation or are fired for cause. Law enforcement agencies can then search the database when hiring new officers.

The Badger Project is a nonpartisan, citizen-supported, investigative journalism nonprofit in Wisconsin.

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