It seemed like a bad idea at the time-- a slogan that flew in the face of everything we know about public opinion on crime and public safety, as well as simple political common sense: Don't hand your enemy an easy line of attack. And so it was, as we survey the aftermath of the 2020 election.
From an excellent story in the Wall Street Journal:
"In the state where “defund the police” became a progressive rallying cry following the killing of George Floyd, the phrase is now being blamed for harming down-ballot Democrats both here and nationally after some suburban voters were repelled by the message.
President-elect Joe Biden easily carried Minnesota, but the push to cut police funding contributed to Democratic losses of a U.S. House seat in western Minnesota and six state Senate races, say political strategists here. They add that critical Republican ads that followed the defunding calls also hurt Democrats.
“It definitely impacted the regional results,” said Blois Olson, a communications strategist in Minnesota who publishes a newsletter about the state’s politics. “Republicans just hammered Democrats on ‘defund the police.’ ”
The outcomes in Minnesota were echoed elsewhere, too, as Republicans found success in local and congressional races by turning progressive slogans such as “defund the police” into political weapons. Some races have yet to be called, but Democrats might lose close to 10 U.S. House seats......
The issue wasn’t enough to help President Trump in Minnesota, where he finished 7.1 percentage points behind Mr. Biden...[b]ut down-ballot in Minnesota and beyond, a different story played out. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a progressive Democrat who has sparred with Mr. Trump, received a vote share more than 15 percentage points lower than Mr. Biden’s. She supports dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department and reallocating its resources.
A Wall Street Journal analysis of this year’s results shows Mr. Biden outperformed Ms. Omar by at least 10 percentage points in 88% of the 5th Congressional District’s precincts. His advantage—Mr. Biden won 80% of the vote district-wide, while Ms. Omar earned 64.3%—was especially strong in suburban areas....
The voting outcome in Minneapolis, a Democratic stronghold, in many ways exemplifies broader rifts within the party. The city has been a national focus of criminal-justice issues since the May 25 death of Mr. Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of police.
Since then, crime has risen sharply, exacerbating longstanding fault lines between community activists and elected officials. Memories are still fresh from summer protests that at times spun out of control and resulted in the takeover of a police precinct, fires and widespread looting. Residents are still blocking police from entering the intersection where Mr. Floyd was killed, an area covered with flowers, murals and messages spray-painted on streets.
So far this year, there have been 73 murders in Minneapolis and 3,425 car thefts, compared with 48 murders and 2,873 car thefts for all of 2019.
As violent crime spreads, the defund message is now viewed as a mistake by many, including those who want to see changes to policing."
“It was a catastrophe,” said Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil-rights activist and lawyer in Minneapolis. She criticized city-council members for failing to engage with the Black community. “Within the Black community, we don’t have a rallying cry, per se, for no police,” she said."
So how did this loony idea get such traction? How did it come to seem a good idea to paint Defund the Police in giant yellow block letter on a Washington street? Well, not because "the people" were demanding it. Jesse Singal from his newsletter, on a Minnesota Public Radio poll:
"When Minneapolitans were asked whether the size of the police force should be reduced, residents of this extremely liberal city said no by a slight margin, 40-44. The gap was larger for black residents (35-50) than it was for white ones (41-44). And keep in mind that the question is whether the police force should be reduced at all — not whether it should be reduced in the transformative manner called for by many advocates for defunding and abolition. The idea is likely unpopular because people think — accurately, if you believe the above-mentioned Yglesias review or a bunch of other research — that fewer police means more violent crime: “When asked how a significant reduction in the size of the force would impact crime, residents tended to believe it would make them less safe. Overall, 48 percent said it would have a negative impact on public safety while 26 percent said it would be positive. Fourteen percent said it would have no effect and 12 percent weren’t sure.”
This racial gap in enthusiasm for defunding the MPD can perhaps be explained by another racial gap that popped out of the polling: “Black residents were more likely than whites to say crime is on the rise. The poll found that two-thirds of Black residents and fewer than half of whites say crime has gone up.” Funny how easy it is to support police abolition or defunding when you don’t have much personal experience feeling threatened by crime, because you live in a safe neighborhood."
Singal's verdict on the way the defund issue was covered by the media and hyped, despite its very weak base of support is harsh:
From the progressive point of view, I think this has all been very bad. For those of us who do have deep concerns over the criminal justice system, what has this monthslong fixation on defunding and abolition in mainstream media, complete with softball coverage that doesn’t engage with these policies’ shortcomings at all, won us?
Nothing but backlash and misunderstanding. The Minnesota politicians who flirted with these policies had to backtrack. Conservative media, meanwhile, has been able to gleefully paint progressives or Democrats or both as deeply committed to fundamentally cutting back on, or eliminating altogether, policing in the United States. Is this an unfair exaggeration? Yes. But it wasn’t made up out of thin air! There was, after all, a huge amount of credulous media coverage suggesting these ideas are quite popular in progressive spaces. You wouldn’t be crazy for, upon perusing NPR’s or The New York Times’ coverage, believing these to be mainstream progressive policies.
The nice thing about criminal-justice reform is that it has enjoyed bipartisan support in recent years. Or some elements of it have, at least. There is a visceral unfairness to bad law enforcement, to people rotting in prison over nonviolent drug offenses, to the broken public-defender system, to the image of a baby being critically injured by a flashbang grenades hurled carelessly during a no-knock raid, and all the other awful symptoms of a system that grew frightfully bloated and ravenous and out-of-control over the years — and most normal humans, faced with this unfairness, come to believe it should be remedied.....
Can you imagine a more self-sabotaging way of jeopardizing... progress than to broadcast to millions of Americans that really, the core of the criminal-justice-reform movement is about drastically cutting back on police, or getting rid of them altogether? When these policies don’t even appear to enjoy significant support, once you dig into specific questions, among liberals?
This has been a damaging fad, and a fad reinforced by significant social and professional pressure in left-of-center journalistic and academic spaces: pressure to treat the pro-abolition and pro-defunding positions as gingerly and credulously as possible. In early June, The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf tweeted, “There is ascendant pressure on journalists to reify positions that are held by a minority of the public and a supermajority of journalists. If it succeeds it will not advance social justice. It will make journalistic institutions that value social justice less influential.”....
Increasingly, mainstream journalism isn’t about representing the country, or unpacking complex issues with fairness and accuracy. It’s about showing that you are on the ‘right’ side. Even if the ‘right’ side represents a tiny sliver of society — mostly your fellow, well-educated progressive friends and colleagues."
Yup. And the Democrats paid the price in the election.