Poll Says People Love Them Some Cops
November 2, 2016 (Fault Lines) – Regular readers of Fault Lines may have been stunned when a Gallup Poll released this month indicated that 76% of Americans have “A great deal” of respect for their local police. The poll was conducted October 5th through the 9th with a random sample of 1,017 adults aged 18 and older living in all 50 states.
In contrast, last year’s June 5-7 Gallup Poll had American confidence in “The Police,” which is not the same thing as saying “Local Police,” at a 22-year low.
Gallup is a fairly well-respected outfit, although they have been wrong before. Notably, in their 2012 final election poll where they had Romney ahead by 1 point and Obama went on to win by 4 points. Getting it wrong can cause severe damage to your brand, and Gallup drew wrath from critics for getting it that wrong. But it’s okay because they did an internal investigation and found out they just had to tweak a few things and everything is fine now.
If they say so.
If you don’t spend your days with your eyes covered while crying lalalalalala, you know that incidents of police violence, false arrests and general misconduct occur daily all over the country. There are also plenty of reports of cops getting away with horrible things entirely, or receiving very light sentences if they get punished at all.
Collectively, this constant barrage can create a fairly dim view of policing in general. But watching news on your local network affiliate doesn’t necessarily mean you are seeing all of this, as much of the best real reporting and critical commentary has migrated to the Web. In many places, the local newspaper is more like a stenography service for the local police, or they neglect to report anything at all until someone else does it who happens to live 400 miles away and makes them look like idiots.
Currently almost every channel is “The Election Channel” and, given the polarizing characteristics of the candidates and their pundits, the nation is primarily focused on that event.
When the major media channels are not focused on the election of a United States President, they still manage to go silent on many very newsworthy events involving outright illegal activity on the part of the police. People who were caught in a 2015 unlawful fishing expedition for heroin might not be the fans of police they were prior to the event. Maybe none of these folks were included in Gallup’s recent results.
Given that Gallup called a mere twenty* people in each of the 50 states, it might seem like a pretty small sampling. It narrows a bit when you consider that 40% of the sample was people who have land-lines. Who still has a land-line? Less than half of Americans, that’s who; and possibly older folks. Does this poll show a true representation? Gallup thinks so, but it’s not hard to imagine that a few different phone calls to some different towns and different neighborhoods might have connected to a few more people who don’t care as much for their local police.
If it is an accurate reading of how Americans feel, what else besides the distraction of the election could have caused this surge in respect? One thing that did get reported by just about every news outlet in the country was the Dallas ambush that killed five officers. Even for people who didn’t respect the police, that evoked a significant surge in sympathy and served to bolster the false narrative making its way through the media that there is a war on police.
Exhortations by politicians to show respect, or buy lunch for cops and call them Ma’am and Sir, plus a media barrage of feel good cop stories since the Dallas tragedy have assisted police in improving their image quite a bit. But the bottom line may be the fact that the poll didn’t ask about cops in general. It asked about “Local Police.” You might think that the cop you saw on the news shooting a man in the back then planting a weapon on him is a scumbag, but that was in South Carolina; that’s not your local cop. You may have never even come into contact with police other than seeing them pass you on the road.
The most telling thing about this poll may be the wording. “Local Cop” has a different meaning than “Cops,” but a simple online search using your favorite web browser will reveal how media headlines are already blurring that line.
*Math extra credit question: 1,017 ÷ 50 = 20.34