Poll Shows Many More People Disappointed Than Relieved By Senate Sabotage Of Gun Laws

Readers of this website are probably aware that a new Washington Post/Pew Poll “Shows Gun Control Legislation’s Failure Greeted With Relief By Many,” but might not be aware that a recent poll showed that many more people greeted the Republican defeat of a bill that a majority of the senate voted for with anger and disappointment. Of course, these results are from the same poll, and demonstrate, once again, the tendency of people to see what they want to see in public opinion surveys. In this case, the results were decidedly more mixed than you might expect, but what should the participants in the gun debate take away from it?

Universal background checks have consistently polled at around 90% (86% in a recent WaPo poll), but those same polls have consistently shown a disconnect between those who favor specific gun laws and those who favor “gun control” broadly. In this case, Pew polled a group of people who presumably also support background checks at around 90%, yet only 47% of them were displeased that the Republicans killed the background check law. That means that a great many of the poll’s respondents were “happy” or “relieved” that a law they supported did not pass. What the hell?

It’s possible that the wording of the question was a factor. Although Pew included a reference to the background check bill, their question was about the broader set of measures, and included the unpopular phrase “gun control”:

As you may know, the U.S. Senate voted DOWN new gun control legislation, including background checks on gun purchases. Which word best describes how you feel about the fact that this gun legislation did not pass?

Still, that doesn’t seem like enough to cut support for background checks in half, does it? It’s also possible that the “relief” felt by some was a result of misinformation that was spread about the bill, specifically the specter of a gun registry, which the bill actually would have made more illegal than it already is. It’s also possible that many of these respondents still think existing background checks are tougher than they are. Finally, they might all just be idiots.

Of course, I say that these respondents “presumably” also support background checks at around 90% because Pew didn’t ask them that question, or any other question that might explain this contradiction. Pollsters have consistently been happy to report such baffling results, while refusing to drill down on them at all.

I would really like to know why at least 34% of these people are “relieved” that the law they support didn’t pass, as I’m sure the NRA would, too, so they can amplify the effect. It would be a simple matter to add those two questions: Do you support background checks for all gun purchases? Then why are you relieved that there won’t be background checks on all gun purchases? With all of the polling that’s been done on this issue the past several months, you would think someone would have done this by now.

Having said all of that, of what use is this poll to the two sides in the gun debate? For the pro-gun crowd, it has some obvious propaganda value, cutting into the 90% narrative in a superficial, yet easy-to-exploit, way. However, accurately assessing the consequences of public opinion is crucial to lawmakers trying to decide how to proceed on gun regulations. The 47% to 39% gap between the “disappointed” and the “relieved” suggests a possible inversion of intensity that could have electoral consequences. Another recent poll showed that gun issues are a deal-breaker for 29% of voters, while 60% said they could still vote for a candidate with whom they disagreed on the issue. Again, I wish Pew had drilled down on this in their poll, but if their 47%-39% gap is any indication, those energized voters could be splitting Gabby Giffords‘ way.

Without more detailed polling, though, it’s tough to see this poll as “good news” for gun reform. Taken at face value, it tells me that not enough Americans either know enough, or care enough, about this issue. The NRA and its stooges need to keep it that way, and people like Gabby Giffords and the Newtown families need to change that.

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