A recent Morning Consult/POLITICO poll, conducted immediately prior to the recent Democratic debates and gathering responses from 1,991 registered voters, asked about views toward the candidates, issues of potential importance in the election, voting intention, and the like. Of special concern to us were questions about gun policy (i.e., gun control). “Gun policy,” like “common-sense laws,” seems a benign allegory for denying Americans’ Second Amendment freedoms.
A Vox story written after the first debate, referencing the poll, drew a sharp distinction between Democratic platforms past and present with respect to gun control:
This is not where Democrats were in previous elections. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders only briefly got into the issue of guns in the 2016 primary, particularly over Sanders’ surprisingly conservative record on the topic. And in previous primaries, the issue rarely came up at all. For decades, after huge electoral losses in 1994 led Democrats to brand guns a toxic issue, the issue was actively avoided.
The Parkland shooting, and the activism that followed, seemed to change that. With the March for Our Lives and surrounding demonstrations, gun violence and mass shootings suddenly became a big issue in some of the 2018 midterm elections. And now the issue is getting a big chunk of time in the Democratic debates.
Indeed, Vox noted,
For 15 minutes ... the candidates spoke extensively about gun control. The candidates even tried to one-up each other — Cory Booker, for one, brought up his plan to require a license to buy and own a firearm.
Besides Vox, Morning Consult’s own summary of the poll emphasized the gun issue as a campaign priority, as “climate change, gun policy and recent state abortion legislation top Democratic voters’ list of topics they most want[ed] to hear during” the debates. Sixty-two percent of self-identified Democratic voters said that it was “very important” that gun issues be discussed, ranking gun policy second among 17 named issues overall and statistically tied with climate change and abortion for the top slot.
Not a big surprise, really, but also not as monolithic a response as it may appear, for two reasons: First, a substantial split between the hyper-Left Democratic core and more moderate elements of the party; and, second, counterbalancing attitudes from Republican and Independent voters.
Seventy-two percent of “strong Democrats” called the gun policy discussion very important, compared to 47% of “not very strong” – i.e., soft – Democrats and 60% of all those who indicated they were likely to vote in a Democratic primary or caucus. Those splits are significant statistically. Additionally, urbanites were significantly more likely to agree with the “very important” label (53%) than were suburbanites (43%) and those living in rural areas (38%). In terms of religious differences, non-Christians were significantly more likely to call guns a very important issue than were Christians, agnostics, or atheists (66% versus 41%, 45% and 45%, respectively).
Homemakers, students, and the unemployed tended to consider gun policy discussion very important while employed workers were less inclined to do so, but not all differences between those groups were significant. Similarly, Generation Z – or “post-Millennial” – voters were more likely than their Millennial, Gen-X or Boomer peers to rate gun control a very important topic, although differences did not achieve significance.
Internecine differences notwithstanding, even if the anti-gun crowd is betting on the Democratic core to carry the issue, they’ll likely run up against a wall of Republican and Independent voters who disagree. Overall, a minority of registered voters (44%) felt that gun policy was very important for candidates to discuss. Among core Independents and Republicans, those figures dropped to only 38% and 29%, respectively.
When the issue was framed more pointedly, majorities of respondents refused to say it should be a “top priority” for Congress to pass legislation placing additional restrictions on gun ownership. Among all registered voters, just over one in three labeled new restrictions as a top priority, and only 34% of moderate voters and 18% of conservative voters did so. Of course, among the biggest Democratic constituencies – i.e., core party identifiers, Democratic women, self-identified liberals, etc. – gun control was predictably rated a top issue by a majority of respondents. Still, sizable proportions of key Democratic constituencies (e.g., four of 10 core Democrats, 46% of liberals, 49% of 2012 Obama voters, 39% of 2016 Clinton voters) did not agree that additional gun restrictions were a top priority.
From a gun control point of view, perhaps the worst news from the poll came when respondents were asked, “What would you say is the top set of issues on your mind when you cast your vote in the Democratic primary or caucus in your state?” Fewer than one in 10 registered voters planning to vote in Democratic contests (9%) said that gun control was among their “top set of issues,” and that was only after inclusion in a broader grouping of “social issues – like equal pay, gun regulation and race relations.” Even then, for all we know, respondents could have selected the category due to concern about one of the other two issues mentioned and not gun regulation specifically.
Again, among key Democratic constituencies, the only voter cohorts with more than 20% rating the equal pay/gun regulation/race relations triad as its top set of issues were Generation Z (21%) and those for whom “women’s issues” – whatever that generalized term includes – was the number one priority (34%). For the last group, one would expect that those elevating women’s issues to primacy would choose a response category which included equal pay, a hot-button for that debate, regardless of whether or not guns were included.
Pundits already note how the Democratic candidates’ jousting has veered into far-Left territory, and gun control – while making great fodder for campaign rhetoric – doesn’t seem to be generating much traction. Even for those who fail to acknowledge that the existence of rights is not subject to public sentiment, making the issue a cornerstone of their campaigns it doesn’t seem to be working. Does that mean that Second Amendment supporters can call an early win? Certainly not. But perhaps we can take some comfort in knowing that gun control may not the slam-dunk that Democratic candidates – and much of the media – believe it to be.