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Separate polls on assault weapons get different results

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.

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3 Comments

  1. Except I don’t think we have ever had a ban on assault weapons.

    I am not a gun person, but my understanding is that prior bans covered specific guns that could be easily modified to still be legal and that many weapons that might be considered an assault weapon by someone like me were still legal.

    So spelling out exactly what is meant by the word ban would seem to be more accurate rather than less accurate.

  2. You have a VERY active anti Gun Lobby in Rockford and I have no doubt they pushed their members to participate in your Poll. Every Generation has people searching for a “Cause” they can “Champion” …a way they can “fix” Society or create a better & safer World for all. ….Chicago’s Gun Laws are a perfect example , and people die every day because of it.
    So , now we see these vocal Anti Gun activists all over the Web quoting and latching on to fools like Feinstein and the Brady Bunch –and the Media just fans the flame with Polls & biased “studies” convincing them that anyone who owns a Gun is wrong and we deserve to have our property further regulated or taken away. To them , Gun Owners have no rights . —for example …now they claim that the US has the highest crime rate and less Guns will mean Less Crime. Harvard University did a study and proved that to be false ..and also proved that Gun Control and Confiscation does NOT WORK –
    “If you are surprised by [our] finding[s], so [are we]. [We] did
    not begin this research with any intent to “exonerate” handguns,
    but there it is—a negative finding, to be sure, but a negative
    finding is nevertheless a positive contribution. It directs us
    where not to aim public health resources.”
    http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_KatesMauseronline.pdf

  3. We have had a true “assault weapons ban” since 1934. As a result of gangsters using automatic weapons and sawed off shotguns and rifles during the era of prohibition, a large number of weapons came under strict control, which amounted to a ban.

    Because assault weapons are ALREADY controlled, and have been for nearly 80 years, current bans can only control the aesthetics of weapons. You could ban semi-automatic weapons. Australia did that in the late 1990′s. However, a great many sports men and women use semi-automatic weapons. Even many Liberal Democrats own semi-automatic weapons and prize them for their sporting utility. Any ban would land the political party responsible in a lot of trouble.

    All this ignores the fact that violent crime is down, and has been going down for over 20 years. Despite the two recent massacres, Americans are safer today than we were in the 1960′s, which is when we started keeping national records.

    A stronger mental heath program in America would have a much greater impact on the rates of massacres than a new ban on “assault weapons.”

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