Wisconsinites’ support of the ongoing protests decrying law enforcement violence against Black individuals changed little in the wake of the Kenosha police shooting of Jacob Blake, the latest Marquette University Law School poll found.
Though approval of the protests, as well as the broader Black Lives Matter movement, dropped off between the June and August surveys, the new poll — the third since demonstrations erupted nationwide following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the end of May — showed a leveling off among respondents’ views toward both.
Meanwhile, Republican backing of President Donald Trump’s handling of the protests (the survey was in the field during his visit to Kenosha to survey damage stemming from the unrest there) continued to increase in the latest poll, though there was little movement among Democrats or independents. Overall, the approval ticked up to 36% from 32% last month.
In the last couple of weeks, some have claimed that eroding support for demonstrations and BLM would translate into a boost for Trump and his law-and-order message as he faces off against former Vice President Joe Biden in his re-election bid this fall.
But the poll, released Wednesday, shows little evidence to line up with that narrative. Despite the modest increase in Trump’s response to the protests, the newest head-to-head matchup between the two candidates found Biden had maintained a lead over Trump among likely voters, 47% to 43%.
That margin has been relatively consistent over the summer. In May, Biden was plus-4; in June, he was plus-6; and in August, he was plus-5.
Noting the increase in Republican support of Trump's response to the protests, poll director Charles Franklin in an interview Wednesday said it was "a good example of preaching to the choir."
"Republicans are receptive to his message and his visit did reinforce their support for him in how he handles the protest," he continued. "But since that same group of base votes was already voting for him, it did not translate into an electoral impact and it didn’t persuade Independents or Democrats to shift in his direction."
Support for protests, BLM plateaus
Protests against police shootings and Black Lives Matter, while receiving majority support in the mid-June poll, took a hit in the survey that followed six weeks later.
Sixty-one percent of registered voters said they backed the demonstrations in June, while 36% said they disapproved. That transitioned to a 48%-48% split at the beginning of August, and held steady this month at 47%-48%.
“People did change their views of the protest, but that happened in June and July, not as a direct consequence of Kenosha,” Franklin said during the video release of the poll Wednesday.
BLM was much the same. After logging a 59%-27% split in June, respondents were locked in at 49%-37% for both the August and September surveys.
A look at the cross-tabs over the last three polls for that question showed a fairly consistent drop across respondents who identify as Republicans, Independents and Democrats toward BLM between June and August, excluding leaners. While independent support now hovers at 52%, 80% of Democratic respondents say they back BLM while just 17% of Republicans do.
Across respondents' races and ethnicities, Black individuals were the only ones who maintained heightened support for the movement throughout all three polls. Eighty-one percent voiced support for BLM in June, a figure that dropped slightly, to 77%, in August, before returning to 81% in the latest survey.
Hispanic respondents’ support for BLM also rebounded between August and September, following an initial drop-off. While support was at 73% in June, that decreased to 66% before hitting 75% this month. For white respondents, the approval-disapproval gap tightened over the period, beginning with a 57%-29% split in June, followed by 47%-40% in August and 45%-40% in September.
Despite the variability in support over the summer for BLM and the protests, there’s been little overall movement in views on police.
In June, 72% had favorable opinions of police, while 18% had unfavorable ones. The split widened slightly in August to 76%-13%, before settling on a 73%-18% divide this month.
But more variance is evident when breaking down responses by race and ethnicity.
White, Black and Hispanic respondents all logged a less favorable view of the police from the August to the September polls, the cross tabs show, though the sample sizes are low.
Among white individuals, support for police went from 81% last month to 78% in the latest survey, the smallest decline across the three. Back in June, 76% of white respondents said they had favorable opinions of police.
Black respondents’ support for police has decreased over the last three polls. Favorability went from 39%-49% in June to 36%-27% in August, before splitting 26%-57% in September.
But among Hispanic Wisconsinites, support for police initially jumped in August before coming back down again this month. Half of respondents said they supported the police in June, a figure that rose to 60% in August and fell to 41% this month.
“The decline was not large among white respondents, but it was substantial among both Black and Hispanic respondents in the wake of the Kenosha shooting, so that’s something that did change from early August to early September,” Franklin said.
He added in an interview later Wednesday that the conclusion wasn't "quite as simple as 'Kenosha had absolutely no effect.'"
But rather, he continued, "the net effect in terms of changing perceptions of President Trump were really confined to Republicans, and the net effect on the vote is virtually undetectable."
Pre- and post-visit thoughts on Trump
Being in the field the two nights before Trump’s visit to Kenosha and the three nights after, the poll was able to capture respondents’ takes on the president’s appearance.
His visit came over a week after the police shooting of 29-year-old Blake, a Black man left paralyzed from the waist down after he was shot in the back seven times Aug. 23. The incident sparked anger in the southeastern Wisconsin community and beyond.
In Kenosha specifically, unrest led to fires, looting and tense confrontations with police. On the third night of protests, 17-year-old Illinois resident Kyle Rittenhouse allegedly used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle to kill two people and injure a third. His lawyers argue he acted in self defense.
Wisconsinites have had low favorability toward Trump’s handling of protests throughout the summer, the Marquette polls showed, making it one of his weakest areas with voters here. In June, 30% said they approved of his response, while 32% did in August. That increased slightly, to 36%, this month.
But while the latest poll was in the field during Trump’s trip, Franklin stressed there wasn’t a “statistically significant shift” in the responses before and after.
Pre-visit, Trump’s handling of protests logged a 34%-54% split. After his Sept. 1 appearance, the difference was 38%-53%.
When looking at responses by party, Republicans logged “a substantial shift,” Franklin said, jumping from 65% approval ahead of the visit to 87% afterward, with disapproval decreasing from 20% to 6%. Among Democrats and Independents, the numbers hardly budged.
“The effect that we do find is really concentrated on the people that are already with the president, already his biggest supporters,” Franklin noted in the poll briefing. “But they do appear to have rallied behind him on his handling of the protest in the wake of his visit.”
The poll's last day in the field, Sept. 3, coincided with Biden's own trip to Wisconsin, his first stop of the general election campaign. During it, he met with Blake's family and visited Kenosha.
The survey, which also came after both the Democratic and Republican conventions, included 802 registered voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The 688 likely voters surveyed carry a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
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