Biden and Trump voters, crime and policing, and election 2024| Pew Research Center

Republicans and Democrats have long diverged on the topics of how much of a problem crime is in the country and how to approach policing and the criminal justice system.

Those differences are reflected in the current survey in how supporters of the two major party candidates for president view the treatment of criminals by the American justice system and in law enforcement priorities.

Even as there have long been substantial partisan differences in evaluations of how police around the country perform aspects of their job, there is some common ground between Biden and Trump supporters when it comes to what people think law enforcement priorities are.

Is the justice system too tough on criminals, or not tough enough?

A majority of registered voters (61%) say that the criminal justice system in the United States is not tough enough on criminals, while 25% say the system treats criminals about right and 13% say it is too tough.

Chart shows Trump voters overwhelmingly say the justice system should be tougher on criminals, Biden voters are split

Trump supporters overwhelmingly say the system is not tough enough (81%).

Biden supporters are more divided: 40% say the criminal justice system is not tough enough on criminals, while about as many – 36% – say it’s about right in its treatment of criminals. And 21% say this system is too tough on criminals.

Perceptions of the fairness of the criminal justice system differ by age, race and ethnicity

Across demographic groups, Biden supporters are less likely than Trump supporters to say that the justice system is not tough enough on criminals. But within both coalitions of support, there are demographic differences in these views.

Race and ethnicity
Chart shows Most Trump supporters say the criminal justice system is not tough enough

While majorities of both White and Hispanic Trump supporters say the justice system is not tough enough on criminals, White Trump supporters are especially likely to say this: 85% hold this view, compared with 63% of Hispanic Trump supporters.

About half of Hispanic and Asian Biden backers say the criminal justice system is not tough enough. Somewhat smaller shares – around four-in-ten (38%) – of White and Black Biden supporters say this.

Age

Overall, older voters are more likely than younger voters to say the criminal justice system isn’t tough enough on criminals. And that pattern is seen in both coalitions:

  • 87% of Trump supporters ages 50 and older say this, compared with 72% of those under 50.
  • 48% of Biden supporters 50 and older say this, compared with 30% of those under 50.
Education

Among Biden voters, there are differences on this question across educational groups: Biden supporters with more formal education are less likely than others to see the criminal justice system as not tough enough.

  • About a third of Biden voters with bachelor’s degrees or more education (32%) say this. Among those without bachelor’s degrees, nearly half (47%) hold this view.

Among Trump voters, roughly eight-in-ten of those with (84%) and without (80%) college degrees say the system is not tough enough on criminals.

Policing and law enforcement

Over nine-in-ten voters view “keeping communities safe” and “treating people of all racial and ethnic groups equally” as extremely or very important to the job for policing and law enforcement in the country.

Chart shows Community safety, equal treatment of racial and ethnic groups, public respect for police, and suspects’ rights all seen as very important for law enforcement

Smaller, though still wide, majorities say maintaining public respect for police officers (78%) and protecting the rights of people suspected of crimes (65%) are at least very important.

Far smaller shares view any of these as of less importance. Still, a quarter of voters (25%) say that protecting the right of suspected criminals is somewhat important. And about one-in-ten voters (9%) say that protecting the rights of suspects is not too or not at all important.

Biden and Trump supporters aligned on some areas of importance for law enforcement, diverge somewhat on others

Both Biden and Trump supporters overwhelmingly say keeping communities safe is extremely or very important for law enforcement, as is treating all racial and ethnic groups equally.

Chart shows Biden and Trump supporters share some common ground on law enforcement goals but emphasize different aspects

Majorities in both groups also place importance on maintaining public respect for police officers, and on protecting the rights of people accused of crimes.

But there are also substantial differences in the extent to which supporters of each of the candidates prioritize these law enforcement concerns.

  • Trump supporters place greater importance than Biden supporters on maintaining public respect for the police: 88% of Trump supporters say this is at least very important, including 63% who say it is extremely important. By comparison, 69% of Biden supporters see this as at least very important (38% say it’s extremely important).
  • In contrast, Biden supporters are more likely than Trump supporters to place importance on protecting the rights of people suspected of crimes: 72% of Biden backers say this is extremely or very important. A narrower majority of Trump supporters (58%) say this.

Even on the two domains where about nine-in-ten or more in both groups place a great deal of importance – public safety and treating racial and ethnic groups equally – there are gaps between the two coalitions:

  • 80% of Trump supporters say keeping communities safe is extremely important, as do 68% of Biden supporters.
  • 77% of Biden backers say treating people of all racial and ethnic groups equally is extremely important, as do 60% of Trump backers.

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