Politico Gets Excited About Gun Control Polls, But Probably Shouldn't

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Polling tends to be very useful politically. After all, no matter how much a politician thinks something is a good idea, if there’s no public support for it, then perhaps it’s best if they just let that idea go.

However, there’s a problem with polling. It may reflect what the public thinks, but it does so in a pretty simplistic way. It doesn’t show if they really understand what they’re being asked.

That’s especially true with guns.

Of course, that’s never stopped people from thinking that they should use polls to push a position.

Though gun control appears to be on the backburner as Congress dives into a monthslong infrastructure debate, our latest POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows strong support for tightening laws around firearm purchases:

— Overall, two-thirds of voters favor stricter gun control laws, including more than nine in 10 Democrats, 63% of independents and 41% of Republicans. But the percentage of Republicans who oppose stricter laws increased by 13 percentage points since August 2019.

— Voters were split along predictable partisan lines on the question of whether “protecting the rights of Americans to own guns” or “limiting gun ownership” is more important. However, 54% of independents said gun ownership rights are more important.

— Several reforms garnered overwhelming or strong bipartisan support, including: universal background checks (90% of Democrats, 77% of Republicans); creating a national database of gun sales (87% of Democrats, 56% of Republicans); a three-day waiting period (86% of Democrats, 64% of Republicans); banning guns from schools and college campuses (84% of Democrats, 50% of Republicans); and requiring people to be 21 or older to purchase a gun (88% of Democrats, 68% of Republicans). Toplines… Crosstabs

This is from Politico‘s Playbook, and wow.

Of course, it sure looks like everyone’s on board with all these gun control schemes, doesn’t it?

Well, not really.

First, people know how to manipulate polls. How many of those Republicans supporting gun control really are Republicans? Oh, some of them are, without a doubt. Otherwise, you’d see much more similar numbers of support across all the proposals. However, most of us a hardpressed to find Republican voters who actually support all of this.

Further, how many even know what they’re saying they support?

After all, “Do you support background checks on all gun sales?” can easily be heard as a question for universal background checks or background checks in general. Further, a lot of people support some things for other people, but not themselves. One way we know the polling is less than accurate is actually because of this particular proposal.

While polls have shown broad support for universal background checks, they’ve been hammered everywhere they’ve been put before the electorate for a vote. If there’s all this support, why do they keep going down in defeat?

Well, probably because some people like the concept, but when the bills are actually proposed, they realize that it will inhibit their ability to sell a gun to a family member or even loan a gun to a friend in need, people they know aren’t criminals. So, they vote it down.

See, polling is a snapshot of an opinion, but it doesn’t really show support for any position all that much. It shows support for the idea of a policy, but not necessarily the policy as it will be implemented.

Plus, a lot of that rides on how the questions were answered.

As we’ve seen over the years, polls aren’t infallible. After all, everyone said we’d have President Hillary Clinton, and how did that work out?

Apr 15, 2021 2:30 PM ET