Voters Support Police Reform

June 1, 2021

The police shooting of Andrew Brown in Elizabeth City has gotten many North Carolinians thinking about police reform in our state. In the most recent Carolina Forward poll, 55% of North Carolina voters said that they were closely following the Andrew Brown shooting. Interest in the Brown case is distributed broadly across demographic lines: 74% percent of Black respondents, 49% of whites and 61% of people who identified as some other race say they are following the situation at least somewhat closely:

Counterintuitively, there seems to be little variation across age, income and education groups in how much attention North Carolinians are paying to the Andrew Brown case. Seventy-three percent of urban voters are paying at least somewhat close attention to the shooting. By contrast, only 52% of suburbanites and 48% of rural voters say they’re doing the same. While it’s notable that half of respondents in both categories are still following the case, the 21-point difference still looms large.

Abolishing “Qualified Immunity”

One of the key issues in police reform is the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity,” which shields government agents like police officers from personal liability for Constitutional violations. (Read more about qualified immunity here.) On the issue of ending qualified immunity, North Carolina voters are in broad agreement. Fifty-two percent of North Carolinians believe the state should end the policy entirely. Solid majorities of Democrats (76%) and Independents (57%) support ending qualified immunity, along with 1 in 4 Republicans. We also found that 27% of Trump voters, like Republicans overall, support ending qualified immunity.

Support for ending qualified immunity is highly variable along racial lines, but we still see rough alignment. Black respondents support abolishing the practice at a rate of 71%, and a plurality of whites agree. We did not find significant variations across educational groups nor household income on this issue, with majorities or pluralities of each group supporting ending the policy. Noteworthy, too, is that all groups demonstrate some familiarity with the issue despite its relatively technical nature.

In North Carolina’s cities, fully two-thirds of voters voiced support. That support diminishes the further out one goes from the city centers. Fifty-five percent of suburban residents support ending the practice, and 44% of rural voters take the same position. Still, a plurality, 44%-37%, of rural voters support ending qualified immunity. This reflects not only the disparity in opinion across racial groups, but also likely the lived reality of policing itself as practiced in urban areas versus rural ones.

The Use of Deadly Force

North Carolinians strongly believe that the use of deadly force by police officers deserves more scrutiny. By a margin of 59% to 35%, voters say that “the use of deadly force by police officers should be much more restricted and scrutinized.” 

There was a 43-point gap between Democrats and Republicans on this issue (79% and 36% in agreement, respectively), with 61% of Independents agreeing as well. Strikingly, majorities of every racial group supported additional scrutiny of the use of deadly force. Black respondents (70%) and those who identify as some other race (85%) most wanted more scrutiny, but so did a clear majority of whites (55%). Majorities of every educational group, income group and respondent area (urban/suburban/rural) agreed, in an alignment of opinion rarely seen in North Carolina politics.

Overall, this poll shows deep and broad support for progressive change in how policing is done in North Carolina. The Andrew Brown shooting has galvanized people to support additional restrictions on deadly force and an end to the practice of qualified immunity. While most North Carolinians remain supportive of law enforcement in general, they want a system of policing that better serves our communities and is less tainted by discrimination.

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