US voters support reforming War on Drugs-era policing policies

John Ray Senior Political Analyst at YouGov Blue
September 14, 2020, 2:17 PM GMT+0

Cities and states across the country are set to debate police tactics and measures, voters have faced a variety of ideas about who will oversee their police and the leeway that officers will have in the course of conducting their duties. Some of these ideas are new, others have been debated since the Nixon era and the start of what is known as the “War on Drugs,” but voters say they are ready to change some long-standing policies that govern police behavior, according to a recent study by YouGov.

In a recent national survey of US voters, YouGov found that voters are ready to change one of the novel policing strategies designed to execute the War on Drugs: The “no-knock raid.

Overall, 36 percent strongly support and 22 percent somewhat support ending no-knock raids. While Black voters are more likely to report strongly supporting ending no-knock raids, at 44 percent, there is not a large overall racial disparity in terms of who supports or opposes reforming War on Drugs-era policies. Overall, 59 percent of white US voters, 59 percent of Black voters, and 47 percent of Latino voters support ending no-knock raids, and on net more voters in each group support than oppose banning no-knock raids.

You can explore this data by a variety of demographic and political variables below.

In addition to rolling back this Nixon-era practice, some states have introduced bills that reign in the types of officer practices first used in the large-scale prosecution of petty drug crime, and to expand civilian oversight of officers who have carried over these practices into other areas of police business.

Voters support their states’ reform bills

Several states, most recently Virginia and Nevada, have debated legislation to expand civilian oversight of the police. This includes expanding (and protecting) access to officer disciplinary records by journalists and oversight agencies.

We found [2] that Virginians agree with reforms that would improve civilian oversight of the police, including by making it easier for them to access officer disciplinary records and reducing the ability of police forces to destroy those records. Some states and cities only keep discipline records for as short as six months. Additionally, Virginia’s state laws had until the previous legislative session explicitly limited civilian oversight and allowed departments to self-regulate. We found fully 61 percent of voters supported eliminating these restrictions on civilian oversight, including majorities of Democrats (73 percent) and Independents (57 percent), and a net positive plurality of Republicans (46 percent).

As YouGov has reported elsewhere, one motivating factor for this seems to be that voters are ready to improve civilian oversight of the police overall. Since then, new reforms to War on Drugs-era policing policies have emerged. For example, a new bill in Virginia, in addition to ending no-knock raids, would make it easier for civilian oversight groups to get access to officer disciplinary records. The gradual ratcheting up of de jure tolerance of police misconduct began as the War on Drugs turned its focus toward prosecuting petty crimes in minority communities, and has rarely faced pushback until legislation of this kind.

In Virginia, for example, fully 56 percent of Virginia voters supported raising the state’s statute of limitations on reporting an incident of officer misconduct. This includes net positive support for raising the statute of limitations among Democrats (64 percent support-26 percent oppose), Independents (47-34), and Independents (49-35). We’ve included that data below for you to explore.

You can explore the data in more detail below.

A recently proposed and similar piece of legislation in Nevada, in addition to banning certain chokeholds, affirmed the right of civilians to record police misconduct, but it did not change previous legislation protecting officers’ disciplinary records. Nevada voters feel these protections are ready for change: Among Nevada voters surveyed by YouGov, fully 64 percent think police departments should not be able to destroy officers’ disciplinary records, and 60 percent support allowing disciplinary records to be made public.

While many states have already moved in response to public opinion on issues like marijuana legalization, most have been slower to change the law enforcement practices previously used to enforce the status quo. YouGov has found that support for change is high, and consistent across a variety of states. States and cities are likely to continue to face pressure to roll back their War on Drugs-era policies as voters decide their time has come.

Methodology: [1] This national-level survey ran as part of YouGov Blue’s Registered Voter Omnibus and is based on 1,046 interviews conducted by YouGov on the internet of registered voters. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race/ethnicity, education, US Census region, and 2016 Presidential vote choice based on the American Community Study and the Current Population Survey Voting and Registration Supplement. Respondents were selected from YouGov to be representative of registered voters. The weights range from 0.19 to 5.28 with a mean of 1 and a standard deviation of 0.56. The margin of error is +/-3.5 percent. Respondents were asked this question: In many cities, police are allowed to execute search warrants without knocking on the residents’ door and announcing themselves first, even if the residents are not suspects themselves. These are typically known as “no-knock raids,” and are mostly used against suspects of drug offenses, not other kinds of crimes. Would you [support or oppose] a policy ending no-knock raids?

[2] Each state sample reported here was part of a larger twenty-one state project on criminal justice reform. The survey’s Nevada and Virginia samples fielded August 14-22, 2020 on samples of 515 Virginia voters and 412 Nevada voters. Each survey sample was weighted according to gender, age, race/ethnicity, education, and 2016 Presidential vote choice based on the American Community Study and the Current Population Survey Voting and Registration Supplement. The margin of error for the Nevada sample is +/- 5.5 percent. The margin of error for the Virginia sample is +/-4.7 percent.

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