In the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., several polls (Pew, CNN, Huffington Post, Gallup, and Rasmussen) suggest there has been an increase in support for stricter regulation of gun ownership, but with a substantial minority of the public still opposed.
A new iMediaEthics poll finds that while there has been a modest increase in support for more gun control in principle, there has been little change in public opinion about specific gun control proposals since last August – with few Americans strongly opposed.
New iMediaEthics Poll
The latest iMediaEthics poll was conducted Jan. 7-10, and asked all the same questions that were included in the iMediaEthics poll, Aug. 10-13, thus allowing a direct comparison of public opinion between the two time periods. Both surveys were conducted by SurveyUSA, the current one including a representative U.S. adult sample of 859 respondents. (For further details, see methodology statement.)
Key to understanding the public is to differentiate views that people feel intensely from views that are at best top-of-mind opinions that people don’t really care very much about. To accomplish this, iMediaEthics asked people who said they wanted “stricter” or “more” laws, if they would be “upset” if stricter or more laws were not passed.
These results suggest a modest increase in the percentage of Americans who feel strongly there should be stricter laws – from 38% last August to 43% now.
By asking about the number of laws, rather than how strict they are, we found a little different pattern – 32% strongly supporting the need for more laws in August, up to 41% in January. Still, both questions suggest that about four in ten Americans want either “more” or “stricter” gun control laws.
Little Change in Views on Specific Gun Control Proposals
While the general questions show some change in the willingness of the public to accept more regulation of gun ownership, a comparison of attitudes on specific gun control proposals shows virtually no change in views since August. Still, as the results make clear, few people are strongly opposed to these proposals – even if they don’t support them.
For each proposal, more people give strong support than strong opposition by substantial margins. About a quarter of Americans say they are strongly opposed to banning the sale of semi-automatic rifles (26%), to banning the sale of high capacity ammunition clips (24%) and to limiting gun purchases to one a month (23%).
Still, strong support for each these proposals is substantially higher than opposition, with a third to a quarter of people in the middle.
And there is strong majority support for both gun registration and criminal background checks.
Impact of Sandy Hook School Shooting
President Obama announced the formation of a special task force, headed by Vice President Biden, to look into proposals that could be made to curtail gun violence in this country.
The current iMediaEthics poll finds that over half the adult public (53%) say they have followed that event “very closely,” with another 33% saying “somewhat closely.” That is as close to public saturation that we can expect any given event to achieve.
Moreover, a comparison of people who followed the event closely, compared with those who did not, shows more support for new gun control legislation among the very attentive than the less attentive public. (Crosstabs of all questions can be found on Survey USA's website.) These results could suggest that the public was influenced by the shooting into a more pro-gun control position.
A CNN/ORC poll in fact found 43% of Americans saying that the shooting in Newtown made them “more likely” to support stricter gun control laws, while 50% said it would have no effect, and 7% said it would make them less likely to do so.
Still, those results need to be treated with a grain of salt. In the iMediaEthics poll, for example, an examination of the people who followed the event very closely shows that they were disproportionately women more than men (62% vs. 44%) and Democrats more than Republicans (60% vs. 51%).
In short, it appears that people who were more inclined to support gun control legislation anyway were also the ones who were more likely to pay close attention to the news on this issue.
That conclusion is reinforced by the findings, noted earlier, that while there was a modest increase in the general principle of passing more or stricter laws, there was essentially no change in the percentage of people who support or oppose specific proposals.
Implications for Public Policy
These results suggest that the recent impetus for new gun control legislation comes not so much from the general public as a whole, but from political leaders who want to control gun violence in the country. As this poll makes clear, as well as the iMediaEthics poll last August, in principle the American public has been reticent to increase the number or strictness of gun control laws – but in practice, with respect to very specific proposals, there is much greater support, and even widespread toleration for such ideas.
Another way of looking at these results is that strong opposition to these several gun control proposals is found only among about a quarter of the public or less. And on the proposals measured in this poll, there is much greater support than opposition.
iMediaEthics will continue to examine the results of this poll. For updates, check David Moore's PollTalk blog.