Shoddy Polling On “Stricter Gun Control”

With the anniversary of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, CT, on the horizon, CNN is promoting a poorly-worded poll question to suggest that there is “fading support” for new laws that strengthen firearms regulation. reports today:

As memories fade from last December's horrific school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, a new national poll indicates that support for stricter gun control laws appears to be fading, too.

According to a new CNN/ORC International survey, 49% of Americans say they support stricter gun control laws, with 50% opposed. The 49% support is down six percentage points from the 55% who said they backed stricter gun control in CNN polling from January, just a few weeks after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a lone gunman killed 20 young students and six adults before killing himself, in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.

CNN's Jake Tapper highlighted the new poll numbers, asking Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to explain why “your side of this debate is losing at the public opinion war.”

As Media Matters has noted in the past, asking whether respondents would like gun laws to be “more strict” or “less strict” is a particularly poor way to determine their views on the issue. Regardless of their position in the abstract, the vast majority of Americans say they support the passage of specific new restrictions on firearms possession.

That 49 percent support for “stricter gun control laws” represents a slight decline from the 53 percent who supported that aim when CNN/ORC last polled the question, in April. But that April poll also asked respondents whether they supported the specific policy of expanding federal background checks on gun sales -- when asked, 86 percent of respondents said they supported that policy. (As CNN noted, that figure “is in line with just about every other national survey released over the past couple of months.”)

That shows the paradox of polling on “stricter gun control laws”: in that April poll, a full third of the total respondents said they didn't support “stricter gun control laws” in the abstract, but when specifically asked about one such law, they said they were for it.

Unfortunately, CNN/ORC doesn't seem to have polled specific “stricter gun control laws” in their latest poll, leading to results and thus media coverage that is far less informative.