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  • James R. Frohlich

Police Critics Not anti-Capitalist

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

In the wake of Black Lives Matter, we reexamined our global polling data and found that the people who mistrust the police were also more likely to trust private domestic and international corporations. Police skeptics, in other words, are not anti-capitalists. By Azimuth advisors Doug Guthrie and James R. Frohlich.


Do supporters of Black Lives Matter (BLM) want to replace the capitalist system with something more akin to socialism? After all, many of the fires set during demonstrations in the U.S. targeted businesses and commercial buildings.

The BLM leadership, for its part, has tread very carefully on economic issues. Although BLM co-founder Patrisse Collors has readily acknowledged that she and her colleagues are “trained Marxists,” the group’s official website speaks only of “imagining and creating a world free of anti-Blackness,” dismantling “patriarchal practice” and disrupting “the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement.” Dismantling capitalism is nowhere on the official agenda.

To learn how potential BLM supporters feel about the institutions of capitalism, we re-examined our existing cross-national survey data, which were completed as part of the Human Rights Perception Polls (HRPPs). These nationally representative polls in Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and the U.S., and sub-national surveys in Lagos, Mumbai, Rabat and Casablanca, took place from 2012 to 2018, and include almost 13,000 adults.

To determine respondents’ underlying attitudes toward the police, we asked, “Please tell us how much trust you have in the following institutions, groups or persons,” including “the police.” To determine attitudes toward business, we asked about trust in “multinational” and “local” corporations. Our statistical models controlled for age, gender, income, education, place of residence (urban/rural) and individual propensity to trust.

The data clearly show that in all areas surveyed, the more respondents were skeptical of the police, the more they trusted international and domestic business. Indeed, maximum mistrust in the police yielded anywhere from 10 percent to 90 percent more trust in business than minimum police mistrust, controlling for a wide range of other factors. Respondents who mistrust the police most, of course, are also those most likely to support BLM.

What these findings mean is that today, there are at least two major leftist social movements worldwide. One, nourished by the ideas of democratic socialism and socioeconomic justice, attacks economic inequality in the U.S. and abroad, and seeks to reform basic economic structures. Some adherents of this movement may also be opposed to capitalist business.

The second contemporary left-wing social movement is deeply critical of the police and of racism in its ranks. It wants police to stop using excessive violence, and wants racial justice to be hardwired into the way in which governments enforce the rule of law.

Some police skeptics may also be critical of capitalism, but our data show that the two movements are, for now, distinct phenomena. Regardless of what the founders of BLM believe personally, their supporters in the U.S. and abroad show little sign of anti-capitalist sentiment.

Violent policing and socioeconomic injustice are real social problems. For now, however, we find no evidence that the movements protesting them are coalescing, in terms of public opinion, into a single "uber-movement."


An earlier version of this blogpost appeared in On Global Leadership.

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