Race and Attitudes Toward the Police in Texas

Last week's incident in McKinney, TX involving a local police officer and a group of black teens has fed the ongoing national conversation about policing and race – a difficult topic made all the more challenging by the multiple dimensions involved in this instance, which include race, class, and views of law enforcement, to name just a few of the big ones. Data from the February 2015 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll can illuminate at least one important facet of this subject: Texans' attitudes toward the police as an institution. While Texans' may be quick to hail maverick individuals, the baseline conservatism of the state's political culture also contains a strong habit of deference to traditional authority, evident in February polling results that found the police, compared to many institutions in U.S. society, highly regarded – second in Texans' estimation only to the military (Operation Jade Helm notwithstanding). 

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categoryFavorable Attitude
Texas State Government47%
Local Government47%
Federal Government23%

However, positive attitudes about the police are far from universal, and not surprisingly, when looked at by race, display some important differences. Black Texans don't harbor overly negative attitudes toward the police – at least, among blacks who are registered voters (a potentially important distinction) – but their opinion of the police can best be described as ambivalent.  A third of black Texans register neither approval nor disapproval of the police, and among those who express an opinion, more disapprove than approve of the police.

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Very favorable31%10%24%
Somewhat favorable34%19%26%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable16%33%20%
Somewhat unfavorable11%12%17%
Very unfavorable7%25%11%
Don't know/no opinion1%1%2%

The well-spring of bad feelings that many have theorized contributed to the rioting following a police shooting in Baltimore, MD doesn't appear especially powerful when looking at Texas. (And for that matter, Gallup found that confidence in the police among blacks was net positive nationally, though with more reserved judgments than whites.) There are many reasons to believe in the veracity of these findings, not the least of which is that in the aggregate, attitudes among minority groups in Texas should be expected to reflect the conservative political culture in the state.  But – and this is a big but – there are also many limitations to this survey research. Our sample includes only self-reported registered voters, so we don't know from these results what attitudes look like among all Texas adults, nor do we know with great precision what they might look like in the state's major urban centers like Houston or Dallas. And what we definitely don't know is whether and how these attitudes might change or become apparent in the wake of an incident in Texas similar to those in Missouri and Maryland, where black citizens were killed in encounters with police.

Keywords: race