When it comes to our rights, polling shouldn’t matter. We don’t forfeit rights because it might be politically popular. Free speech doesn’t go away because enough people don’t like what you want to say and you don’t lose your right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure simply because enough people think it should be.
Yet we still listen to polls because it dictates what politicians are going to do.
A recent one by Fox News is likely to get a lot of use going forward, but it shouldn’t. After all, based on what we can see, there’s more confusion than information.
After a series of mass shootings this spring, including the killing of several students at a private Christian school in Tennessee, voters would prefer focusing on specific gun control measures rather than arming citizens to reduce gun violence.
A new Fox News Poll finds most voters favor the following proposals:
— Requiring criminal background checks on all gun buyers (87%)
— Improving enforcement of existing gun laws (81%)
— Raising the legal age to buy a gun to 21 (81%)
— Requiring mental health checks on gun buyers (80%)
— Allowing police to take guns from those considered a danger to themselves or others (80%)
— Requiring a 30-day waiting period for all gun purchases (77%)
Now, this looks nothing like what you’d expect from Fox News. Then again, if polling is done correctly, the innate bias of the people conducting the poll shouldn’t matter.
Yet there are significant problems with this poll that makes it less than useless in my mind, and not just because I dislike the results.
For one thing, we don’t have an actual report on what the poll actually asked. That matters because phrasing matters. We need to know exactly what question was asked, not just how it’s reported.
One graphic on universal background checks, for example, simply says that 87 percent support background checks for gun sales, not on all gun sales as reported above.
Then there’s the fact that despite all this supposed support for gun control, only 43 percent think passing stricter gun laws will make the US a safer nation. That means 57 percent don’t.
If new gun control won’t make us safer, why support new gun control in the first place?
Fox News may do a lot of good work and good reporting, but this poll is more confusing than illuminating, in part because there are just too many questions about what these numbers even mean for us to get anything meaningful from the data.
While polling data shouldn’t have any impact on our rights, the truth is that they often do. Yet polling needs to be transparent so we can have a useful debate over the results. This is anything but useful, transparent, or anything else.
Especially since the results appear to be self-contradictory. People want gun control but they don’t think it works?
No, that tells me there was some degree of confusion among respondents on something, if not outright shenanigans by someone somewhere. I can’t prove it and have no evidence to suspect it, I just can’t imagine anything else accounting for it.