We seem to have an uncanny knack at deciding to ask gun control issue questions on our polls just before incidents of mass violence. In our most recent poll, which concluded a week before Monday’s shootings at the Washington Naval Yard, we had a series of questions about three gun control bills passed earlier this year by the NJ legislature, and vetoed (absolutely or conditionally) by Gov. Chris Christie. We were interested first, in whether the public supported the bills, and second, in whether knowing Christie vetoed them, Garden Staters would become less supportive of the measures.
So we asked the questions in an experiment where half of our respondents were told that Christie had vetoed the bills and half were only told the legislature passed them. The three bills would have 1) required reporting lost, stolen, and discarded guns to federal databases, 2) record gun permits on driver’s licenses, require gun safety training, and create instant background checks, and 3) ban .50-caliber rifles. Interesting, the last of these was advocated for by Christie, but in the end he vetoed the bill.
Below we report the total across both versions of the questions, finding that New Jerseyans overwhelmingly support the first two bills, and also support the proposed and, but not quite as strongly. In the experiment, we find that learning Christie vetoed the bills has NO effect on support for the .50-caliber ban, but REDUCES support for the other two bills he returned to the legislature. In other words, Christie’s opinion sways public opinion on the two more complex bills, but has no effect on the straightforward ban.
Text of the press release is below. Click here for a PDF with text, questions, and tables.
RUTGERS-EAGLETON POLL: MOST NEW JERSEYANS SUPPORT VETOED GUN CONTROL LEGISLATION, ARE CONCERNED ABOUT GUN VIOLENCE
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Large majorities of New Jerseyans support three pieces of gun control legislation Gov. Chris Christie either conditionally or absolutely vetoed recently, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll completed before Monday’s mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard.
The most popular of the measures vetoed by the governor, to require state enforcement agencies to report information on lost, stolen and discarded guns to federal databases is strongly supported by 73 percent of state residents. A second measure, to require that firearms purchase permits be recorded on driver licenses, create instant background checks, and mandate gun safety training garners strong support from 70 percent.
A ban on the .50-caliber rifle, a measure for which Christie originally advocated but vetoed outright, has some support from 64 percent of respondents, including strong support from 54 percent.
Concern over gun violence remains steady since Rutgers-Eagleton last polled in February 2013, after President Obama announced multiple gun-related executive orders. Seven in 10 continue remain “very concerned” about the amount of gun violence in America, and another 22 percent say they are “somewhat concerned. Only 7 percent are not concerned at all.
But fewer Garden Staters now believe controlling gun ownership is more important than protecting the right to own guns: 63 percent now favor gun control over gun owners’ rights, down six points, while 31 percent side with gun owners. Much of the change is driven by those in households with guns who have become much more concerned about gun owner rights.
“After numerous very public shooting tragedies in recent years, it is clear New Jerseyans want more and stricter gun control measures adopted,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “This is true even though New Jersey already has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation.”
Results are from a poll of 925 New Jersey adults conducted statewide among both landline and cell phone households from Sept 3-9. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.2 percentage points.
Widespread concern persists, but more division on gun rights
While steady since February, the number of respondents “very concerned” about gun violence is down seven points from its all-time high of 77 percent recorded immediately after the December 2012 Newtown, Conn., school shooting. Concern among Democrats has dropped 8 points since December, while Republican levels of concern have actually increased by 10 points. Concern among independents has dipped 11 points since December, to 62 percent.
“The odd finding that Republicans became more concerned may be due to the emphasis Gov. Christie gave the issue earlier this year, when he advocated for several gun control laws, including banning the .50 caliber rifle,” said Redlawsk. “Given Republican’s strong support of the governor, his emphasis on the issue may have helped drive their concern up.”
More than 60 percent of Christie supporters are very concerned about gun violence. Eighty-one percent of Buono supporters and 76 percent of Christie detractors feel the same. A substantial gender gap persists. Women are 22 points more likely than men to be very concerned (81 percent to 59 percent). Even nearly 60 percent of gun owners are very concerned about gun violence, with another 25 percent saying they are somewhat concerned. Concern also increases with age.
Greater division exists, however, on the question of gun control versus gun owners’ rights. Majorities of Democrats and Republicans are at opposite ends of the spectrum: 75 percent of Democrats say gun control is more important, but 54 percent of Republicans side with owners’ rights. While Republicans have not changed their opinions since February, Democrats’ support of gun control has dropped nine points, though most still support it. Independents’ support of gun control has declined six points since February, but 60 percent still say it is more important than owners’ rights.
Christie supporters and those who plan to vote for him in November are less likely to say gun control is more important than gun rights. Fifty-eight percent of those with a favorable impression of the governor prefer gun control, compared to 75 percent of his detractors. Similarly, 82 percent of Democratic challenger Barbara Buono’s supporters favor gun control, compared to just over half of the incumbent’s supporters.
Gun-owning households and those without also take opposing sides: 64 percent of gun owners believe protecting owners’ rights is more important, compared to 69 percent of households without guns, who disagree. Gun owners’ beliefs in their rights have increased by 13 points since February, while non-gun owners’ preference for gun control has dropped by eight points.
Christie vetoes sway some residents
While large majorities support the three bills Christie at least conditionally turned aside, his decisions do sway some voters to his side. As an experiment, half the respondents were informed of the vetoes. The other was only told the bills had been passed by the Legislature. Support for two bills – the federal reporting requirement for lost guns, and the mandate for driver’s license notations, background checks, and training – drops significantly when people learn Christie vetoed them. Support for banning .50-caliber guns remains unchanged, however.
When information about the governor’s veto was omitted, 73 percent of New Jerseyans want to see background checks and training. But Christie’s actions influence some: 67 percent offer strong support when they know about the veto. Women are not affected by knowledge of the veto, but strong support by men drops 13 points when told Christie refused to sign the bill. Among Republicans, support for the bill drops seven points to 57 percent when Christie’s veto is mentioned. Democrats show a larger decline: 80 percent strongly support the bill when they don’t know about the veto. Seventy-one percent offer strong support when they know the governor vetoed the bill.
Similar patterns occur when respondents are told about Christie’s veto of the federal database bill. Seventy-seven percent of those who don’t know about the veto strongly support the bill, but the number drops to 69 percent when told Christie opposed it. Democrats are eight points less likely, and Republicans 12 points less likely to offer strong support for this law when they learn of Christie’s vetoes. Support among men and women drops when they are told of the governor’s veto.
Attitudes are much more stable in respect to the proposed .50-caliber rifle ban. Just over half of respondents in both versions of the question strongly support the ban, whether or not they are told about the veto.
These results suggest two things, according to Redlawsk. “First, people are more certain of their position on banning the .50-caliber gun, so their opinion does not change whether they know Christie opposes it,” he said. “But for the other, more complicated measures, support is not as crystallized. As a result, the governor’s decision directly influences opinion, moving some people more in his direction. Still, most New Jerseyans want to see all three bills become law.”