Gun control might not be as powerful an issue as many people expected after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, a new poll shows.
In the survey, the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative asked 1,000 registered voters to identify “the most important issue in the upcoming elections.”
Gun-control policy was picked by 12 percent — far behind immigration, cited by 23 percent, and health care, cited by 20 percent. The gun issue was statistically tied with the economy, picked by 13 percent.
The state’s youngest voters, ages 18 to 34, were almost four times more likely to cite gun control as their top issue than voters age 75 and older.
The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points and was conducted online and through landline phones Friday through Monday.
Attention to gun control has erupted since the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 people and injured 17. The Stoneman Douglas community — parents and students — along with leading political figures and celebrities in Florida and across the country saw gun control as a defining issue and vowed to effect change at the ballot box at multiple rallies in South Florida and across the country. New gun-control movements have started, and voter registration drives have been launched.
Public opinion polls in Florida have shown enormous public support for a wide range of gun-control measures.
The biggest unknown has been whether all the energy from people who want gun restrictions will make the issue something that many people use to make their voting decisions, said Kevin Wagner, a political scientist at FAU and a research fellow at the polling initiative.
Historically, gun-control advocates haven’t been motivated by the single issue, Wagner said. By contrast, pro-gun voters are so passionate that the issue has been more likely to be the single subject that motivates their vote.
Wagner said he was somewhat surprised by the relatively low percentage that cited gun-control policy as the top issue in the latest polling.
“You can see it’s one of the important issues, but it’s behind immigration and health care,” Wagner said.
Dana Sanchez-Quist, president of the South Florida chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, attributed the percentage who picked gun control to the passage of time — it’s been three months since the Stoneman Douglas massacre — and people’s attention shifting to other issues. “Historically, the gun reform issue is not in the loop of the general population until it touches them,” she said. “The next time we have another massacre or something that touches our community, those numbers will definitely change.”
State Sen. Gary Farmer, a Broward Democrat who organized the first big South Florida gun-control rally after the Stoneman Douglas massacre, said many people are focused in issues they confront every day. Many people in Florida have family or friends who are affected by immigration issues, and many people don’t have health insurance, something he said helps explain the higher ranking for those areas.
“Unfortunately, we only think about gun control or tend to think about gun control when something horrific happens,” he said.
Randy Lundi, who lost a campaign for Congress in Ohio in 1994 and now lives in Jupiter, is a Second Amendment advocate and firearms owner. “People are getting a little more logical and a little more analytical,” given the passage of time. He pointed to the strong fundraising the National Rifle Association, the nation’s pre-eminent pro-gun organization, saw in April. The NRA broke a 15-year record.
He said he was surprised that gun control didn’t score higher “given the nature of what happened in Parkland, the national media has everybody all fired up about gun control.”
And like gun-control advocates, Lundi said attention could increase rapidly if there’s another incident.
Farmer said the poll results don’t indicate gun control won’t have an effect on this year’s elections. He points to multiple public opinion polls that show voters are overwhelmingly in favor of restrictions such as banning assault weapons. “While gun control may not be the top issue on people’s minds, or the second issue on people’s minds, it’s overwhelmingly in support of gun control,” Lundi said.
And Sanchez-Quist said there is still a lot of interest in the issue. She said she’s heard from many more candidates who want to learn more about the issue this year than in previous election seasons.
Isabelle James, political director at the gun control organization Giffords, said the poll numbers aren’t discouraging. “Gun-control policy was tied with the economy, which is a top issue in elections year after year,” she said. “I actually saw it as really a positive sign, that it rose up to where it was on the list, far ahead of taxes, far ahead of trade, education, all these issues.”
James said she thinks it’s likely that if the pollsters had asked about “gun violence” or “gun policy,” the percentages would have been higher.
— On gun control and immigration, the poll found big differences based on political affiliation.
Gun-control policy was cited as the most important issue by 16 percent of Democrats, 14 percent of independents and 5 percent of Republicans.
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