Do protesters want to help or hurt America?

Linley SandersData Journalist
September 01, 2020, 6:38 PM UTC

After months of steady protests across America about how police officers treat Black Americans, a Yahoo News/YouGov Poll finds a narrow majority of Americans believe the protesters are ultimately striving to improve the country, not destroy it.   

The movement against police brutality was ignited in May by the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died when a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes despite pleas from Floyd that he could not breathe. The ongoing national protests extended to Kenosha, Wisconsin last week after the police shooting of a 29-year-old Black man, Jacob Blake, who suffered seven gunshot wounds and is now paralyzed. 

The reoccurring instances of police misconduct have set off national conversation about how law enforcement interacts with Black Americans. As the protests continue — wavering between peaceful marches and pointed destruction — it has juxtaposed two sides of America: those who believe the protesters want to improve America versus those who believe the protesters want to destroy America. 

The Yahoo News/YouGov Poll, conducted August 27 – 28, asked Americans whether they believe the protests are aimed at improving the country or wrecking it. Republicans (78%) and white Americans (57%) are particularly likely to believe protesters are destroying America. In contrast, Democrats (80%), Black Americans (88%), and Hispanic Americans (57%) believe that protesters want to improve America.  

The protests in Kenosha escalated to a deadly head last week when a 17-year-old gunman killed two people who were participating in a protest against police brutality. The Yahoo News/YouGov Poll found that two in five Americans (40%) describe the Kenosha protests as “mostly violent riots” compared to 15 percent of Americans who say they are mostly peaceful protests.  

The revelation may not benefit either side that is trending toward violence. Most Americans across party lines say that protesters lose their support when they turn to violence. Three-fourths of adults (75%) say they support protests if they are peaceful but disagree with the protests turning violent. Three-fourths of Republicans (77%) agree with this statement, compared to 74 percent of Democrats. 

Related: Will the country become safer under a Donald Trump or Joe Biden presidency? 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Yahoo News/YouGov Poll   

Methodology: The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,001 U.S. adult residents interviewed online August 27-28, 2020. The respondents all participated in a prior Yahoo News survey conducted July 28-30, 2020 and were contacted to participate. Of the 1,506 adults in the July 28-30, 2020 survey, 1,001 responded to this survey – a recontact rate of 66.5%. Respondents were re-interviewed from the previous nationally representative survey. The sample was weighted to gender, age, race, education, geographic region, news interest, 2016 Presidential vote and registration status, and baseline vote intention of the first wave. The margin of error is 4.2 percent (and 4.5 percent for the sample of registered voters).   

Image: Getty