WaPo-Pew poll: So much for that tide of anger over gun-control failure

Barack Obama might be employing “the audacity of mope” after the failure of his gun-control initiative, but he’s mostly alone.  According to a new poll from the Washington Post and Pew, there is no rising tide of outrage over the failure to pass any kind of gun-control legislation this month.  In fact, there are about as many people delighted over it as angry, especially among those who actually cared enough to pay close attention to the debate:


The Senate’s defeat of a package of popular proposals aimed at curbing gun violence last week seemed certain to foment public outrage at out-of-touch politicians who don’t listen to their constituents.

Only if one ignored the actual polling on issue prioritization.  Even at the height of the media coverage of the Newtown shooting, the number of people who considered guns a top public-issue priority never climbed out of the single digits, according to Gallup.  By the time the bills failed, only 4% thought of guns as the most important public issue facing the country, down from 6% in early February.  The only angry people were on CNN and MSNBC. And bear in mind that the Gallup question would have included people who thought protecting gun rights were the most important issue, too.

That explains these results:

Yes, a plurality (47 percent) describe themselves as either “angry” or “disappointed” about the failure of the gun legislation but 39 percent call themselves “relieved” or  ”happy” about what happened. That’s a far cry from the 90-ish percent support that expanding background checks – the centerpiece of the proposed legislation — enjoyed.

And, among those who said they were “very closely” keeping tabs on the vote, the split was even closer; 48 percent said they were angry/disappointed while 47 percent were relieved or happy. (That piece of data is indicative of the passion gap on the issue between those supporting gun rights and those pushing for more restrictions.)

Viewed broadly, the new Post-Pew poll numbers suggest that, in the end, the Senate vote last week wound up functioning in the minds of most Americans as a sort of stand-in for how they feel about gun rights more generally as opposed to the specifics (background checks in particular) of the legislation.

So, not surprisingly, those who who were most angry about the failure of the gun bill were reliably Democratic groups like those with postgraduate degrees and those living in the Northeast.


Be sure to check out the graph accompanying this claim, because the scale of the “anger” speaks volumes.  Only 31% of postgrads felt “anger” over the results of the vote — and they were the most angry demographic in the poll. The only other demos in the poll with 20% or more angry were Northeasterners, Democrats, and those 65 years of age or older.  As I wrote this weekend, it’s basically the Richard Jenkins character in Liberal Arts (and again, which is a very good film).

In comparison, there are a baker’s-dozen demographics with 20% or more happy about the collapse of the legislative effort.  That includes the demographic-of-the-whole “all adults” (20%), and independents (26%), and the West (28%) — which surprisingly outstrips the South (22%) and Midwest (20%).

Chris Cillizza argues that the results show people weren’t actually listening to Obama’s argument:

To their credit, the President and his White House tried like hell to emphasize that the proposals in the bill were ones that drew support across party lines. But, their failure to make that case effectively speaks to the entrenched views much of the country holds on guns. The conclusion? Most people simply weren’t really listening to the argument President Obama was trying to make.


They only started making those arguments, though, after demonizing gun owners and the NRA and demagoguing on a tragedy that those solutions didn’t actually address. Had the White House taken the more moderate tenor and position immediately rather than seizing on a ban of so-called “assault weapons,” they might have made progress on expanded background checks, and may have even gotten the NRA (which has previously endorsed those in concept, if not in the details) to either support them or remain agnostic.

Here’s a pro-tip for politicians: If you want to make a reasonable case, don’t start by blaming all gun owners for the acts of a madman, and then insinuate that their opposition to legislative non-sequiturs means they don’t care about children or crime.  This became a referendum on the principles of gun rights because Obama and his administration made it one, and they fell on their face for that reason.

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David Strom 7:00 AM | May 18, 2024