Fewer Americans see a broader problem in police killings of Black people than did last summer

October 12, 2021, 8:57 PM UTC

In polls over the last five years, Americans have been asked whether the deaths of Black Americans during encounters with police in recent years are isolated incidents or signs of a broader problem. Each time, more people have said the deaths are part of a broader problem. But the share has fallen.

In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, the country has never been so evenly divided on the issue: 53% see deaths of Black Americans in police encounters as part of a broader problem, while 47% describe the deaths as isolated incidents. Those figures were 65% and 35% in the first poll conducted after the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in May 2020.

The decrease in agreement that there is a broader problem spans the political spectrum. The shares of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans who label police killings of Black Americans as isolated incidents have each risen by 10 percentage points or more since the first poll after Floyd's death.

Just how many people are killed by the police in the U.S.? Widely reported counts understate the number, according to a recent study. Americans tend to agree. Two in five say they think the number of deaths is greater than is reported, while just 16% say the number is lower. Democrats overwhelmingly say more deaths are caused by police than are reported, while by a margin of more than two to one, more Republicans say counts of deaths caused by police overstate the true number than say they understate the true number. Among Black Americans, 55% say police killings are undercounts; just 5% say they are overcounts.

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov Poll

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between October 3 - 5, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2016 and 2020 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.1% for the overall sample. 

Image: Getty