A sign painted by protesters stating “Defund the Police” is painted next to a Black Lives Matter sign near the White House in Washington, June 7, 2020. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

The politically polarizing phrase “defund the police” is being blamed by pundits on the right and the left for the Democrats’ performance in the 2020 elections. Although President-elect Joe Biden won the state of Minnesota, the Democratic Party lost a House seat as well as six state Senate races, which some politicians and communications strategists have attributed to the unpopularity of the messaging behind defunding the police. 

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) pointed to the surge in voter turnout as well as Biden outperforming Hillary Clinton by nearly 8 points as proof that progressive policies such as defunding the police are a net positive for Democrats. “So while some folks want to point to progressive policies as the reasons Democrats underperformed, it’s just not true. Our values don’t turn voters off — they turn voters out,” she stated. Rep. Omar has been credited for larger voter turnout, yet data also shows that she underperformed compared to Biden in her own district. A Wall Street Journal analysis shows Biden earning 80% of the vote in the district, while Rep. Omar earned 64.3%.

In a now-viral audio clip leaked to the Washington Post, Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) stated, “We need to not ever use the word ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again,” citing the progressive messaging as fodder for Republicans to paint her stances as more radical than they are. On Nov. 6, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) stated that if the Democrats “run on Medicare for All, defund the police, socialized medicine, we’re not going to win.” Minneapolis-based civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong said that the messaging around defunding police in urban Minneapolis was a “catastrophe.” “Within the Black community, we don’t have a rallying cry, per se, for no police,” she said. Polls show that 81% of Black Americans want police to spend the same amount or more time in their neighborhoods, and Black Americans are slightly more likely than other racial groups to want local policing maintained.

While the defund narrative is perceived to have led to poor performance for Democrats, many police reform policies and accountability measures that emphasized alternatives to policing were successful in this election cycle. Los Angeles voters approved “Reimagine LA County,” which requires that 10 percent of the city’s unrestricted general funds (an estimated $360 million to $900 million) go toward social services and alternatives to incarceration. 

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

In Minnesota and Beyond, ‘Defund the Police’ Weighed on Democrats – Wall Street Journal – 11/18/2020
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.

No, Defund The Police And Medicare For All Didn’t Lead To Democratic Losses In The House – The Appeal – 11/9/2020
Given the general underperformance by the party, it’s unsurprising that neither Democratic challengers supportive of nor opposed to Medicare for All fared well in swing districts. Moderate Democrats running in battleground seats who were seen as probable winners such as Texas Representatives Sri Preston Kulkarni, Gina Ortiz Jones, and Wendy Davis fared poorly, just as pro-Medicare for All candidates such as Texas Representative Mike Siegel and Nebraska Representative Kara Eastman were unable to win their contests.

Pushing ‘defund the police,’ BLM turned its success into electoral disaster – New York Post – 11/16/2020
Whenever someone tried to take the edge off defunding the police by redefining it as simply reallocating some law-enforcement dollars, defenders piped up to say, No, we really mean it. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez balked at a proposal to cut $1 billion in police funding in New York City: “Defunding the police means defunding the police.” The New York Times ran an op-ed against incrementalist interpretations, “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police.”

Police reform was a big winner this election – Vox – 11/13/2020
Despite being a contentious issue across party lines, voters last week in cities in six states overwhelmingly approved 18 of these ballot measures, including creating and improving police oversight boards, changing police department staffing and funding, and requiring public access to police body and dashboard camera recordings. While most of these measures are a step toward reform, almost none are radical in terms of reimagining policing.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

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