Poll: Gun control not a priority for midterm voters

AP Photo/David Goldman

I don’t put a lot of stock in the specific numbers of any given poll, but I do think surveys can be useful in helping us pick up trends, and it’s been clear for several months now that Americans are just not that interested in the idea of new gun control laws. The latest USA Today/Suffolk University poll continues that trend, with gun control coming in near the bottom in terms of legislation that both Democrats and Republicans are prioritizing.

The survey asked respondents to pick between the following options and decide which issue should be Joe Biden’s first priority for 2022:

  • Voting rights
  • Childcare programs
  • Universal pre-kindergarten
  • Climate initiatives
  • Gun control
  • Undecided

For Republicans, the most popular choice by far with 46% of the vote was “undecided,” with “gun control” coming in dead last at 5%.

“Undecided” was also the top vote-getter for independents with 21%, closely followed by “childcare programs” at 20%. Once again “gun control” was the least popular choice, with just 11% of independents believing Sleepy Joe should unleash his inner Beto and call for passage of his gun ban and compensated confiscation bill.

Gun control did fare better among Democrats, getting the vote of 20% of respondents. Still, that was well below the 38% who declared that Biden’s first priority should be “voting rights,” and even behind the 23% who believe that “climate initiatives” are the most pressing concern. It was actually universal pre-kindergarten that was the big stinker among Democrats, with just 3% picking that as their top priority (which is fascinating, given the Democrats’ insistence at including it in Biden’s “Build Back Better” monstrosity).

The disinterest in gun control is also evident when you break down survey responses by age as well. Support for making gun control a top priority is actually strongest among older voters; 15% of those 50-64 and 13% of those 65+, but only 9% of respondents between 18-34. In fact, among the youngest cohort of voters, gun control is once again the least popular option as far as legislative priorities go.

While this was the only question in the poll that specifically addressed gun control, there was a series of questions that touched on violent crime and mass shootings, and as Suffolk University’s David Paleologos shared, there was surprising common ground across the political spectrum in response.

Bipartisan unity for government action on mental health was even higher than I could have anticipated – quite frankly, I haven’t seen bipartisanship like this on a major issue in a long time.

In this week’s national poll of registered voters, 80% of Republicans, 91% of Democrats, and 93% of Independents said that there is a mental health crisis in the United States. I purposely used the word “crisis” in this question to only capture respondents who felt that our country’s mental health situation was in dire straits – not just those who considered it another issue among many. And yet the response in the poll was still overwhelming.

… The Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll also addressed the issue of guns as well. Fifty-nine percent of voters say that poor mental health care is primarily responsible for public shootings in stores and schools; 75% attribute poor mental health care to suicides. According to the Gun Violence Archive, the year 2021 recorded the highest amount of gun deaths – excluding suicides – since they have been reporting these statistics.

As I said earlier, I don’t want to make too much of one particular poll, but these numbers are pretty significant, both in terms of the percentage of respondents who say we’re in a mental health “crisis” and those who say that the mental health crisis is primarily responsible for active assailant attacks.

Which is not to say that everyone in the grips of a mental health crisis is going to start targeting random innocents, by the way. Rather, a very small portion of the much larger group of people experiencing a mental health crisis can and will lash out violently and with murderous intent, and the Suffolk University polling data suggests a majority of respondents believe the best way to address this is through better mental health and not more gun control laws.

I’m a little puzzled why Suffolk University didn’t include an option for “addressing the mental health crisis” in their question about Biden’s potential priorities. With even 80% of Republicans agreeing that there is, in fact, a crisis, I can’t help but think that would have been the runaway favorite answer if folks were given the opportunity to choose it. Even without that option to choose from, though, gun control just isn’t a priority for midterm voters, even it’s still of profound and fundamental importance to far too many Democratic politicians and donors.