Republicans Support Tougher Gun Background Checks, Unless It’s Obama Suggesting Them

The president's proposal is popular with Americans of both parties, but easily politicized.

Americans, regardless of party, broadly agree that strengthening gun background checks is a good idea.

Ask them about "President Obama's plan" to strengthen gun background checks, though, and things get a little trickier.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who's called the idea of closing background check loopholes "reasonable" and "obvious," criticized Obama earlier this month for planning executive actions to do exactly that, saying the measures wouldn't help to reduce mass shootings.

A new HuffPost/YouGov poll shows that the opinions of the public are similarly mutable. Everyone included in the survey was asked to respond to the president's recent proposals on gun control, including tighter background checks, increased spending on mental health and research into "smart gun" technology.

Half, though, got questions like this one:

Do you favor or oppose President Obama's plan to require background checks for buying and selling guns, including at gun shows and private sales?"

The other half saw questions such as this, which didn't mention Obama at all:

Do you favor or oppose requiring background checks for buying and selling guns, including at gun shows and private sales?"

The idea was popular either way: 66 percent of the group that saw Obama’s name favored the ideas, as did 74 percent of the group that didn’t see them associated with the president. 

But the group that got the former question was divided much more significantly along party lines. When Obama was mentioned, the gap between parties was 49 points. When he wasn't mentioned, it was just 25 points.

This kind of partisan reaction isn't, by any means, unique to guns. Both Republicans and Democrats are more likely to back everything from universal health care to affirmative action if they think they're agreeing with their political leaders, rather than those from an opposing party.

Gun control, though, didn't use to be quite so partisan of an issue. As recently as 2007, Republicans were about evenly split on whether it's more important to control gun ownership or to protect the right to gun ownership. Since then, as a chart from Pew Research shows, GOP support for gun restrictions has plummeted, even as Democratic opinion has stayed about the same.

Opinions on two of the other proposals Obama laid out weren't affected nearly as much by the mention of his name. 

Support for government-conducted and sponsored research into smart guns that can only be fired by their owner clocked in at 52 to 57 percent, depending on how it was asked.

Between 60 and 64 percent of respondents backed spending $500 million to improve access to mental health care to reduce gun violence, with a majority in both parties favoring the idea.

The relatively steady support may have something to do with the fact that neither idea has anything to do with additional restrictions on purchasing firearms.

Despite Obama's pledge he's not trying to enact "the first step in some slippery slope to mass confiscation," a small but significant bloc of Americans remains opposed in theory to any new forms of gun control.

While 58 percent of Americans say it would be possible to enact some types of new gun regulations while maintaining Americans' right to bear arms, 26 percent believe enacting any new gun regulations would violate Americans' right to bear arms.

Republicans are about evenly split between the two positions, with 46 percent saying new regulations are possible, and 47 percent that any new restrictions would run afoul of the Second Amendment.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Jan. 5-7 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.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. 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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Pivotal Moments In The U.S. Gun Control Debate