California Voters Demand Police Accountability from Next State Attorney General

Kyle C. Barry & Sean McElwee

While Governor Gavin Newsom prepares to name California’s next attorney general, a new statewide poll from Data for Progress and The Lab, a policy vertical of The Appeal, shows overwhelming, bipartisan support for an attorney general who is independent from the police and prioritizes police accountability. 

Specifically, 59 percent of California voters, including 51 percent of Republicans, said that the next state attorney general should refuse to accept campaign donations from law enforcement unions. 

In addition, 73 percent of California voters, including 58 percent of Republicans, said that the next state attorney general should commit to investigating and prosecuting police officers and sheriff’s deputies who kill. 

Key Context

California’s current attorney general, Xavier Becerra, has been nominated to lead the Department of Health and Human Services in the Biden administration, leaving a vacancy (assuming that he is confirmed) for Newsom to fill. As the state’s top law enforcement officer, the attorney general has sweeping power and discretion to shape the state’s criminal legal system, including the power to investigate and prosecute local law enforcement officers who kill civilians. 

A lack of police accountability has long plagued California. A spate of recent police killings of Black men, including Mario Woods in San Francisco in 2015, Stephon Clark in Sacramento in 2018, and Sean Monterrosa in Vallejo in 2020, have not led to prosecutions by either local prosecutors or the state attorney general. Meanwhile, law enforcement unions have continued to pour money into prosecutor elections, creating at least the appearance of an interest conflict between prosecutors and the police officers whose conduct they are supposed to oversee. 

But the new poll results come amid momentum for change—and show that voters demand a state attorney general who will further reform. A new California law, Assembly Bill 1506, requires the attorney general to investigate all lethal police shootings, and to publish a report on each investigation. Also, last year nearly 50 prosecutors from across the country, including the district attorneys of Contra Costa, San Francisco, and Santa Clara counties in California, responded to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis with a pledge to refuse campaign donations from law enforcement unions. Now the next state attorney general has a clear popular mandate to join that pledge.

Polling Methodology

From January 16 to January 19, 2021, Data for Progress conducted a survey of 564 likely voters in California using web panel respondents. The sample was weighted to be representative of likely voters by age, gender, education, race, and voting history. The survey was conducted in English. The margin of error is ±4.1 percentage points. 

California Voters Demand Police Accountability from Next State Attorney General