Americans are unhappy with President Donald Trump’s response to the death of George Floyd, his handling of the ensuing protests and the way he has dealt with race relations in general, according to four polls released this week.
The death of Floyd, who was killed when a white Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee to his neck, has brought the USA’s troubled history of race relations back to the forefront of the national consciousness.
Floyd’s killing has been condemned by Democrats and Republicans in a rare moment of bipartisan agreement. But feelings about the protests across the USA – some of which led to vandalism, looting and clashes with police – have been more divided.
Trump and some Republicans, such as Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, called for a militarized response to control the unrest. Many, including Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and former President George W. Bush, strongly rejected that approach.
Polls from CBS News, Emerson College, Reuters/Ipsos and Monmouth University found most Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the protests and the underlying racial issues.
Only the Emerson College poll was conducted after peaceful protesters were cleared from around the White House on Monday so Trump could visit a nearby church that had been damaged the night before. The move was derided by former military officials, including retired Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s first secretary of defense, who sharply rebuked the president in a statement Wednesday.
Trump’s low marks on race
On Trump’s handling of Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests:
- Emerson College – Approve 36%, disapprove 47% and 17% neutral/no opinion
- Reuters/Ipsos – Approve 33%, disapprove 55%
On Trump’s handling of race relations in general:
- CBS News – Approve 33%, disapprove 58%
Faith in Trump’s ability to handle race relations:
- Monmouth University – Some or a great deal, 40%. Not much or none at all, 60%
Though a majority in the Monmouth poll say they have little or no confidence in Trump’s ability to handle race relations, 52% say they have at least some faith in former Vice President Joe Biden to do so, and 46% do not.
“The race continues to be largely a referendum on the incumbent. The initial reaction to ongoing racial unrest in the country suggests that most voters feel Trump is not handling the situation all that well,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Support for the protests
While many on the left have expressed support for the demonstrators and downplayed the outbreaks of violence, some conservatives have condemned the scenes as lawless riots.
The CBS News poll found 46% approve of the protests, 38% disapprove and 16% are neutral. About 1 in 6 (17%) approve of the looting that has taken place and 76% disapprove. More than 1 in 5 say the burning of a Minneapolis police precinct was a justified form of protest, and 65% say it wasn’t.
The polls found that Floyd’s death has made Americans more pessimistic about the state of race relations.
A majority of Americans say in the Emerson College poll that race relations are just as bad (30%) or worse (25%) than they were during the civil rights era. A CBS News poll released Thursday found the number saying there is progress toward ending discrimination against blacks dropped to 56% from 79% in March 2014, when the country marked the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
The Emerson College poll also found a 54% majority is optimistic that things will improve. Twenty-six percent say they will stay about the same, and 20% expect they will get worse.