Americans Can Still Be Shocked By School Shootings: Poll

Last year, that wasn't a given.
Jonathan Drake / Reuters

The mass shooting of high school students is still seemingly enough to shock Americans and spur an uptick in concern about gun violence, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds.

Sixty percent of Americans currently believe gun violence is a very serious problem facing the country, up from 53 percent last November and a record high in HuffPost/YouGov polling since late 2015. Just 22 percent currently say mass shootings are an unstoppable “fact of life in America today,” down from a record 37 percent last October, following the slaughter in Las Vegas.

And a 48 percent plurality of Americans say that members of Congress should take action to try to reduce mass shootings, while just a third believe mass shootings cannot be reduced through legislation. In three surveys last fall, Americans were close to evenly split between those two options.

Whether that change will last, let alone prove an impetus to political action, remains very much up in the air.

Some of the apparent shift may simply be due to normal fluctuations in polling. Other questions show less movement: the 54 percent majority who currently favor making gun laws more strict is well within the 48-to-55-percent range where it’s been in HuffPost/YouGov polls over the last few years.

Americans also remain roughly split on whether it’s politically possible to pass any new gun control laws. And just 16 percent rate gun policies as among their top concerns.

Still, the increase in concern about mass shootings and the desire for legislative action shown in the new poll represent more movement than was apparent in three HuffPost/YouGov polls taken at the end of last year. Those surveys were taken in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre and, barely more than a month later, a mass shooting at a Texas church. As we wrote at the time:

Mass shootings in America rarely lead to political change, but they often do result in a brief spike in support for gun control. But as new polling suggests, with opinions on the topic starkly divided along political lines, it’s not clear whether two of the most recent high-profile shootings did anything to change people’s minds. In the past two months, HuffPost polled opinions on gun control three times: immediately after the Las Vegas shooting at the beginning of October; toward the end of the month, when it had largely faded from the news; and in early November, following the Texas church shooting. It’s possible that the nation is now sufficiently numbed that such tragedies are no longer sufficient to provide a jolt to public opinion; it’s also possible that the fallow time between high-profile shootings has been so brief that opinions never had time to go down from their heightened state. Either way, the consistency on many of the questions asked is notable.

Views remain marked by the deep political divides that have characterized public opinion on guns dating back to the beginning of Barack Obama’s presidency. Ninety percent of Hillary Clinton voters favor stricter gun laws, as do 52 percent of non-voters and third-party voters, but they’re joined by just 21 percent of those who backed President Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

Clinton voters are 53 percentage points likelier than Trump voters to consider gun violence a “very serious” national issue, 44 points likelier to say it’s possible to enact new gun regulations while maintaining Americans’ right to bear arms and 63 points likelier to favor congressional action to help prevent mass shootings.

Last week’s Florida school shooting that claimed 17 lives galvanized some of its teen survivors, a group of whom who are planning a nationwide march to demand action on gun violence.

“This isn’t about the GOP. This isn’t about the Democrats. This is about the adults,” Cameron Kasky, a junior at the high school, told ABC. “We feel neglected. At this point, you’re either with us or you’re against us.”

The new poll doesn’t include non-adults. But it finds that younger adults, by most metrics, aren’t especially focused on gun control issues. Just 15 percent of adults under age 30 cite gun policies as a top issue, and just half favor stricter gun laws. One number, however, suggests more support among young adults for action: 56 percent believe members of Congress should work to reduce mass shootings, up from 39 percent last November.

The poll also doesn’t ask about specific proposals for new gun policies, many of which garner far greater support than the overall concept of gun regulation. In a survey taken in 2016, more than 80 percent of voters backed universal background checks, as well as preventing the sale of firearms to people on the FBI’s terrorist watch list, those who’ve been been reported as dangerous by a mental health provider, or who’ve been convicted of stalking or of violent misdemeanors like domestic assault.

According to the White House, Trump has signalled interest in a bipartisan proposal that seeks to address flaws in the national criminal background check database.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Feb. 15-17 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn moreabout this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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