Just weeks after President Donald Trump championed gun restrictions in a rambling televised appearance, he backpedaled on Monday, offering a gun plan that largely hews to the NRA’s orthodoxy and seemingly scraps his proposal to raise the buying age for some guns.
Trump shifted his position on age limits because they don’t have “much political support (to put it mildly),” he tweeted Monday.
But as far as the American public is concerned, Trump is ― to put it mildly ― incorrect. A HuffPost/YouGov poll taken soon after Trump’s initial comments shows that most of the nation, including much of the GOP, was willing to go along with many of the gun control measures he briefly supported.
Nearly 70 percent of the public, including most Republicans, favors raising the age for gun purchases from 18 to 21. About 80 percent of Americans polled favor strengthening background checks. Close to half even approve of Trump’s admonition to “take the guns first, go through due process second” when dealing with mentally ill people who could pose a threat.
Just 8 percent of all Americans polled near the start of the month said Trump was doing too much to pass new gun laws, while 34 percent said he was doing about the right amount, and 37 percent said he wasn’t doing enough. Just 12 percent of Republicans felt the president was going too far.
If Trump had stuck to his initial statements on guns, in other words, he could have done so without significant resistance from either his base or the country at large.
The findings also hint at a stark difference between gun polling today and polling during the Obama administration: Republicans are no longer especially afraid that the president will take their guns.
As former President Barack Obama began charting his course to the presidency, GOP support for gun control plummeted, thanks to rhetoric from the NRA that stoked fears about sweeping gun restrictions but often seemed disproportionate to the reforms Obama actually proposed.
In practice, that meant the mere mention of Obama’s name was enough to torpedo GOP support for otherwise popular gun policies. Near the end of Obama’s presidency, a HuffPost/YouGov poll divided respondents into two groups before asking them about gun proposals. For one group, the poll attributed the proposal to Obama; for the other, it omitted his name. Republicans’ support for background checks was a full 20 points lower when the poll mentioned Obama’s name.
The most recent HuffPost/YouGov poll, which set up a similar experiment, found that Republicans’ opinions of several of the policies Trump espoused stayed about the same, whether the poll mentioned his name or not.
Eighty-five percent of Republicans told that Trump favored “strengthening background checks for buying and selling guns” said that they also favored doing so, as did a virtually identical 86 percent of those simply asked their opinion. In the control group, 61 percent of Republicans favored raising the age for gun purchases to 21; in the group with Trump’s name attached, a very similar 65 percent did.
For other questions, Trump’s name seemed to modestly help quell GOP opposition to gun measures. One group of Republicans were told that Trump, speaking about seizing guns from mentally ill people who could pose a threat, had said, “A lot of times, by the time you go to court, it takes so long to go to court to get the due process procedures. Take the guns first, go through due process second.” They agreed, 59 percent to 27 percent. Those who saw the statement without attribution to Trump agreed by a more modest 52 percent to 40 percent.
Remarkably, when told that “President Trump has said former president Barack Obama did not do enough to pass new gun laws,” 48 percent of Republicans agreed. Absent the attribution to Trump, just under 40 percent did.
Democrats asked questions that mentioned Trump’s name were less likely to favor proposals attached to him than those who didn’t see him mentioned. But in both groups, three-quarters or more backed stronger background checks, and 70 percent or more favored raising the age to buy guns.
A 49 percent plurality of Democrats told that Trump had lambasted Obama’s record on guns insisted that Obama had done the right amount to pass new gun laws, with just 23 percent saying he hadn’t done enough. Democrats in the control group were apparently less on the defensive about their former president’s record ― 42 percent said Obama had done too little, and just 36 percent that he’d done the right amount.
Other polling on gun control after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, found that while the rise in support for stricter gun laws wasn’t confined to Republicans, it included them. And in an earlier HuffPost/YouGov poll, 61 percent of Republicans said they viewed new gun restrictions as compatible with their Second Amendment rights, up from 42 percent as recently as last fall.
That movement may only be temporary. It’s certainly not universal ― gun groups like the NRA still hold significant political sway, and their membership reportedly spiked after Parkland, as it has during past shootings. But the latest polling suggests that, had Trump held on to his support for gun restrictions, he may have brought some members of his party along.
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. 28-March 1 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 more about 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.