by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Democratic lawmakers, operatives, and commentators are calling for the defunding or abolition of America’s police departments in the wake of officer Derek Chauvin’s killing of unarmed black man George Floyd.
While the proposal is popular among the party’s progressive activist wing and on Twitter, it faces a hard wall of resistance among the wider public. A recent YouGov poll showed that fewer than 20 percent of Americans of all parties supported any cutting of police funding—a finding consistent with decades of polling.
Police defunding or abolition has long been a key idea of the radical left, with advocates arguing that the use of state force should be replaced with more equitable redistribution and investment, to target “root causes” of crime rather than responding to it after the fact. That view appears to have risen to the upper echelons of the Democratic power structure—without, however, growing notably more popular among voters.
National leadership, meanwhile, has sought to either distance itself from defunding—as in the case of presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden—or define the idea away as simply shuffling funding, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) did Monday. Those moves reflect a lack of consensus between leadership and the base, and within the progressive activist coalition itself, as to what defunding actually entails.
Such caution from party leadership suggests that while it is popular in the streets, defunding the police is unlikely to have staying power at the federal level. Rather, it is more likely to go the way of other radical proposals like the abolition of ICE, which was quietly memory-holed when polling revealed its electoral unviability.
Police abolition’s unpopularity is bipartisan.