On Polling and Passing the Buck

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Cuomo is blaming Bloomberg and the Brady Campaign for the problems with the SAFE act. Sorry, no dice Guv, you own it. Apparently Bloomberg isn’t happy with this. You’d almost think gun control isn’t popular or something. Shouldn’t they be clamoring to take credit to the cheers of adoring citizens who are thrilled that we have such stalwarts as Cuomo and Bloomberg standing up for everyone’s “right to be safe?”

CBS News notes that polling support for stricter gun control is waning, and National Journal says the Democrats misread the polling on gun control.

The support for gun-control policies then is “really high but shallow,” Hatalsky said. “People will support this and they think it’s a good idea, but they don’t feel super deeply about it,” Hatalsky said. “They’re not convinced that it will necessarily work and that it will work to change their own lives.”

I think that’s a big part of the picture, but I think another part of the picture is what’s known as social desirability bias, or telling pollsters what you think they want to hear. I also would argue there’s likely a consistent problem polling gun owners, because many of them likely will remove themselves from any survey that asks questions about their gun ownership or views on gun issues. We have a lot of evidence in regards to social desirability bias being at play in gun control polling from the times gun control has appeared on ballot measures. One of the early measures was in Massachusetts, where a handgun ban managed to get on the ballot as Question 5 in the 1976 election year. Dave Kopel writes about that here:

The final poll, a few days before, had showed Question 5 with a 10-point lead. Everyone anticipated a long night waiting for the election results. Everyone was wrong.

Handgun confiscation was crushed by a vote of 69 percent to 31 percent. Of the approximately 500 towns in Massachusetts, only about a dozen (including Cambridge, Brookline, Newton and Amherst) voted for the ban. Even Boston rejected the ban by a wide margin.

That’s not the only time. A few years later in 1982, in California, the birth of the modern ban with grandfathering, then called a “handgun freeze” made its way on as Proposition 15. We know from the Violence Policy Center itself, and from this Politico article that the measure had polling support ahead of the election, where it went down to defeat 37-63%. Before anti-gun folks start to claim that, “Well, those were bans, and no one is proposing that,” we accelerate ahead to 1997, with Initiative 676 on the ballot of Washington State, which would have mandated training for handgun possession, licensing, and trigger locks. Again, it was polling way ahead at least a month out from the election, but went down to defeat 29% to 71%.

I believe social desirability bias in polling is real, and is ignored at politician’s expense.

13 thoughts on “On Polling and Passing the Buck”

  1. Much of this social desirability bias is because so much of the entertainment media promotes the idea of gun ownership as mouth breather activity. If only conservatives were interested in making money by investing in film, instead of throwing money away on elections that fail.

    1. What films? Where are the people asking for the money? I kicked in money for “Frack Nation”; I’d be willing to do so for a conservative “entertainment” film.

      Search Kickstarter — the word “conservative” brings up anthropology and Green cult projects.

  2. “Apparently Bloomberg isn’t happy with this.” Well, darn. Schadenfreude.

    1. Oh, that’s good. So his point was to show the world how easy it is to buy an AR-15, of which he wasn’t actually able to buy.

      1. The store owner canceled the sale because Mark Kelly’s subsequent media statements indicated he wasn’t purchasing the rifle for his personal use; specifically, his intention to re-sell the rifle out-of-state. Which means he lied on his Form 4473, which, of course, is a federal felony.

        I’ll be expecting BATFE agents to be knocking on his door in 3 … 2 … 1 …. [crickets]

  3. “Democrats misread the polling on gun control”

    That is the problem. They have their eyes on the polling instead of the constitution and their oaths to support/defend it.

  4. Wow, I did not know those poll to referendum numbers. That’s very fascinating. It really shows the evidence of social desirability bias. And it reinforces my comment about Dems staying home if gun control fails.

  5. It is hardly news to anyone that support for gun-control is a mile wide but an inch deep. Well, except to gun-control advocates and news media stars who whore for the Democratic Party.

  6. Massachusetts has 351 cities and towns, not 500.

    SDB is quite a real phenomenon. In this climate, any gun owner that spills the beans to a stranger taking a poll does so at their own peril and most gun owners, especially in blue states/regions, recognize this. Election results, for decades, bear this out.

  7. I’d also say the devil is in the details. Supposedly saving lives with a gun control measure sounds so “reasonable” until one sees the specifics of the ridiculous proposals and then the support evaporates.

    You know what though…even if 99% of the population says the support gun control, they still lack the authority to pass legislation that infringes on my Second Amendment rights. The same goes for my Constitutional rights to free speech, my religion, a fair trial and so on. It is not up for a majority vote.

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