Paleologos: Why Suffolk University and USA TODAY are teaming up to take a deep dive into US cities
The importance of cities in the United States cannot be understated.
Today, roughly two-thirds of Americans live in cities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Over half of the U.S. gross domestic product comes from just the top 25 metropolitan areas, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. These statistics are powerful when you consider that cities comprise only 3.5% of the land area in the United States.
While national and statewide polls are common these days in public survey research, polls of cities are very rare. City-level polls are virtually nonexistent in non-election years. Theoretically, if you wanted to learn about the views of a city, you could use the city subset taken from an existing state poll. The problem with this method is that the margin of error on that tiny subset will be extremely high, rendering the data insignificant and useless.
American cities have been the battleground for some of the most important issues of our time, especially in the last few years. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, it was cities that were the hardest hit by infections and deaths and that have taken the longest time to safely reopen their local economies. Huge turnout in cities across the country helped to propel Joe Biden to victory and unseat a sitting president – no small feat. Perhaps most notably, cities have been the locations of a vast majority of recent controversial shootings of African Americans by police, and the protests and riots that have occurred afterward. It’s unthinkable that the research community has not made a concerted effort to survey residents of cities – until now.
Protestors march down Water Street in Milwaukee during a peaceful protest march against the killing of George Floyd, an African American, by a white Minneapolis police officer. Photo by Mike De Sisti and / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ORG XMIT: DBY1 (Photo: Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Welcome to our inaugural edition of CityView, a first-of-its-kind series of public opinion surveys being conducted by Suffolk University and USA TODAY, and polling residents in select cities across the country. As part of this series, we’re asking Americans questions about some of the most controversial issues their cities are facing. This month’s city, located in one of the most sought-after swing states in the country, is known for the Bucks, breweries and below-zero temperatures. One potential addition to that list: broken policing, but not necessarily bad police officers.
Today, Milwaukee is more diverse than the state of Wisconsin and the United States as a whole. It’s a majority-minority city, where the combination of Black, Hispanic, and Asian residents easily outnumbers white residents.
Residents of the city, particularly Black residents, are dissatisfied with their quality of life. Four out of five Black residents rate their city as a fair or poor place to live while just 4% said it is an excellent place to live. Residents say that different races are not treated equally: White residents say they are treated better by a margin of 82-10, while Black residents say they are treated worse by a margin of 86-6.
The Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll, on the surface, records unflattering perceptions of police, with just 9% of residents rating the police as excellent, 26% as good, 45% as fair and 16% as poor. Among Black residents, perceptions are markedly worse, with 81% rating the Milwaukee police as fair or poor, while only 1% grade the police department as excellent. Yes, you read that correctly: Just 1 in 100 African Americans rated the Milwaukee Police Department as excellent.
While city residents are evenly split on whether the Milwaukee police use force only when necessary, the answer is a resounding “no” by a 2-1 margin among Black residents. A majority of residents don’t believe the police stop and search with good reason, and 69% of Black residents believe Milwaukee police stop and search people for no good reason. About 65% of Black residents support cutting some police funding and using the money to fund social services like helping the homeless and the mentally ill.
Learn: How Milwaukee became so segregated and why it matters when it comes to crime
People protest and block traffic in Milwaukee, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016, over the police shooting of a Black man. (Photo: Jeffrey Phelps, AP)
A deeper dive, however, shows some hope for Milwaukee and its police department. Despite trust issues and skepticism, 70% of Black Milwaukee residents feel safe in their neighborhood, 76% would ask the police for help if needed and 92% say they would provide information to the police if they witnessed a crime. A majority of Black residents say Milwaukee police treat people of different races fairly, even if there are a few bad apples on the force.
And how about one-on-one interactions with a police officer? A majority of Black residents said they have called the police; among those who had called the police, 69% were very or somewhat satisfied with their experience. That is a poll finding the city might consider developing. With 7 of 10 Blacks satisfied with their one-on-one neighborhood cop experience, more positive personal interactions today could yield a positive perception of the Milwaukee Police Department some day in the future. Policymakers would be wise to use new technologies to scale up these personal interactions.
Keep on the lookout for our next CityView poll. We’ll be coming to a city near you!
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