Giving Cities Their Say

Together with USA TODAY, the Suffolk University Political Research Center has launched a first-of-its-kind poll examining top issues facing U.S. cities.

The Suffolk University Political Research Center has long commanded national respect for its political polls, which are highly rated for their accuracy in predicting election outcomes.

But with CityView — a first-of-its-kind series of public opinion polls focused on some of America’s largest cities, conducted in partnership with USA TODAY — Suffolk is diving into some of the most critical issues facing urban America, from education to affordable housing to COVID to race relations. In doing so, the University is “staking out a research space that no one else is filling,” says the center’s director, David Paleologos.

CityView has put an especially sharp focus on race and policing, with illuminating poll results that may suggest potential avenues for reform.

A deeper dive

Most leading polling research centers focus only on national or state-level polls, says Paleologos, yet cities are playing an increasingly crucial role in contemporary American life.

The majority of Americans live in cities, and more than half the country’s gross domestic product comes from the top 25 metropolitan areas. In 2020, cities bore the brunt of the pandemic; witnessed widespread racial justice protests; and played a decisive role in the presidential election.

Writing in USA TODAY, Paleologos called it “unthinkable that the research community has not made a concerted effort to exclusively survey residents of cities — until now.”

Since June, CityView has polled residents of Milwaukee, Detroit, and Los Angeles, asking about their overall quality of life; the top issues their cities are facing; whether they think they are treated better or worse because of their race; how they rate their police departments; whether they support the movement to “defund the police” and other questions.

The findings — which reveal often stark differences in the experiences of the cities’ white and Black residents — have generated nationwide coverage from more than 100 media outlets, including USA TODAY, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Detroit Free Press, MSNBC, and Fox News.

“Police and policy makers need to be thinking about how people of different races have much different experiences in their cities. They need to be sensitive to these conditions.”
David Paleologos Director, Suffolk University Political Research Center

“This tells me we are doing the right thing,” says Paleologos, who discussed the polls’ impact in an interview with Boston Globe editor-columnist Adrian Walker as part of Suffolk’s Ford Hall Forum.

A mixed report card

The CityView polls do show support for police. A majority of residents — Black and white — say they would feel safer with more police officers in their neighborhoods, rather than fewer. And more than two-thirds of residents who have called police for assistance say they were generally satisfied with the experience. In Detroit, residents listed public safety as their top issue, well ahead of police reform. 

Yet the polls also contain some hard truths: for example, 61% of Milwaukee residents rate their city’s police as fair or poor. While there is little enthusiasm for “defunding” the police, the polls show widespread support for shifting some police funding to mental health and social services. And in each city, there is overwhelming evidence that Black residents feel they are treated worse because of their race.

Says Paleologos: “Police and policy makers need to be thinking about how people of different races have much different experiences in their cities. They need to be sensitive to these conditions.”

How polling data can help shape policy

Paleologos first got the idea for CityView from a city with a troubled history of policing: Newark, NJ.

In 2018, the Suffolk University Political Research Center was hired by the U.S. Department of Justice to survey Newark residents about the city’s police department, which was found to have engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional policing — including unlawful stops and searches and excessive use of force — that disproportionately affected the city’s communities of color.

Following their survey of 700 Newark residents, Paleologos and his team submitted “1,725 pages of cross tabulations” detailing the residents’ encounters with and attitudes toward the city’s police. Using that data, the final DOJ report not only documented police department excesses but also made recommendations for ways to improve, including better community outreach, training in de-escalation tactics, and other reforms.

In 2020 when the center re-surveyed Newark residents, Paleologos was heartened to find that some reforms had been implemented and that attitudes toward law enforcement had improved. In the same year that saw the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the Newark Police Department fired not a single shot.

When a member of the survey team observed that the polls “might have actually saved lives,” Paleologos became determined to survey other cities to see if they, too, could use polling data to better inform policy.

CityView will wrap up the year with polls of Louisville, Ky., and Oklahoma City, scheduled for early December.

As for Paleologos, he says, “I’m at the point in my life that I’m asking, ‘What is my role as a researcher?’ Is it to be the person who tells you who is going to win a race, then shuts up and goes away? Or is it to get involved in the kind of policy research and recommendations where we’ve seen we can have a real impact?”


Greg Gatlin
Office of Public Affairs

Beth Brosnan
Office of Public Affairs