Gun owners often scratch their heads over national polls on gun control issues because the responses are so radically different from their own views and those of their friends and family.
On Wednesday, Pew Research and the Washington Post released a poll showing that more Americans have more negative than positive feelings about the Senate’s inability to pass gun-control measures. The survey showed that 47 percent were either “angry” or “disappointed” while 39 percent were “ very happy” or “relieved.”
However, the methodology skews to show more support that actually exists. Pew/Washington Post polled 1,002 adults, but the best public opinion polls ask registered voters because they are the one who will affect the outcome of election. According to a recent Fox News poll, only 26 percent of registered voters support stricter gun control laws. Registered voters are also more likely to closely follow politics. The poll showed that just 39 percent of respondents followed the Senate debate “very closely.”
The question posed by phone gave no context for those unfamiliar with the details of gun policy: “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?”
A more accurate poll question would ask: “An amendment proposing expanding background checks to private transfers and sales did not get enough votes to pass the Senate. Which word describes how you feel about this gun-control legislation not passing before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulling the whole legislation from the floor?”
Furthermore, the emotional level shows that those who are negative are less ardent than those who are positive. Fifteen percent of respondents said they were “angry” compared to 20 percent who called themselves “very happy.” Thirty-two percent said they were “disappointed,” as opposed to 19 percent who said they were “relieved.”
Also, the poll was not even split by party, which matters because members of the GOP are more likely to be pro-Second Amendment. There were 316 Democrats and only 239 Republicans in the survey. Broken down by party, 67 percent of Democrats in the poll had negative feelings about the outcome, compared to 34 percent of Republicans.
Pew/Washington Post does not give data on how many people were called in rural, southern and western states, which are all largely more pro-gun. However, it did show that in the 16 states in which both senators voted against the background check amendment sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, and Sen. Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, views were more positive (47 percent) than negative (39 percent). In the 21 states where both senators voted in favor of government intervening in private firearms exchanges, the sentiment was more negative (51 percent) than positive (38 percent).
Gun owners who want to know how the Senate roll calls on the Second Amendment will affect future legislation and the 2014 election are better off talking to others in their community rather than following national opinion polls.