HERE‘s an interesting case in which two separate surveys on the question of banning assault weapons produced starkly different findings:
Ten days ago, Daily Kos commissioned Public Policy Polling to field a poll on a variety of topics related to guns. One of the simplest questions we asked—just eight words long—was this:
Would you support or oppose banning assault weapons?
Even though our survey oversampled gun owners considerably, respondents said they favored such a ban by a broad 63-32 margin. Now, you might wonder if the people we polled know what exactly an assault weapon is, what a ban might cover, and whether such a ban would even be effective.
Those are all legitimate questions, but regardless of how well-informed our respondents might be, they stated a preference in response to a simple, clear question—and as we move forward, the public debate on this question will indeed generally be referred to, by politicians and the press, as “a ban on assault weapons.” In other words, we framed our question to reflect the rubric people will hear when they tune into the news.
Contrast our approach with Gallup’s, which also released some new dataon gun issues. Here’s their assault weapons question:
Are you for or against a law which would make it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess semiautomatic guns known as assault rifles?
By a 51-44 spread, Gallup’s respondents oppose such a ban—which is actually a little tighter than the 53-43 against they found the last time they asked this question (in Oct. of 2011). No matter what, though, that’s wildly different from the huge numbers PPP sees in favor of such a ban. So what gives?
Well, frankly, Gallup’s question sucks. It’s too long, too wordy, and too confusing. As I noted above, for decades, this public policy issue has been described—by supporters and opponents alike—as an assault weapons ban. Everyone knows what the word “ban” means. So why complicate things with legalistic phrasing like “illegal to manufacture, sell or possess”? Normal people don’t talk that way. Hell, even abnormal people like Beltway pundits don’t talk that way.