Texarkana, TX 47° View Live Radar Thu H 62° L 42° Fri H 47° L 41° Sat H 58° L 36° Weather Sponsored By:

How polls mislead media on guns, immigration

How polls mislead media on guns, immigration

March 9th, 2018 by Ramesh Ponnuru in Opinion Columns

Americans tell pollsters that they want tougher gun laws and legal status for illegal immigrants who came here as minors the so-called Dreamers. So why haven't such laws been enacted?

Catherine Rampell writes in the Washington Post that it's a mistake to blame "Washington dysfunction." The real culprits, she says, are Republican politicians who are out of step with public opinion, even among Republican voters.

She stacks the deck a little in making her case. It's not just Republicans who defeated a proposed ban on assault weapons in 2013. Sixteen Democrats (counting Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats) joined them in voting it down. It's misleading to say that Republicans have made it easier for people "with mental illness" to buy guns; as the ACLU pointed out, the regulation in question concerned people who have a mental impairment that leads them to have others help them manage their government benefits.

Rampell's reference to "NRA-funded Republican politicians" implies that the group's clout comes mainly from its donations, when most people who have looked at the question think its sympathizers' votes are more important.

These are quibbles. Rampell's basic observation is correct: There does seem to be a disconnect between several poll findings and the behavior of Republican politicians. But the explanation may lie in the limitations of polling as a guide to what the public really thinks.

Start with immigration. Rampell cites a Quinnipiac poll that found that 81 percent of respondents, including 68 percent of Republicans, favor "allowing undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to remain in the United States and eventually apply for citizenship."

That's probably why most Republican politicians, including President Donald Trump, say that they favor it too. But Trump says he wants a law that provides for that amnesty and also makes other changes to immigration laws. It's disagreement over what a deal should include that has so far prevented action.

Does the public think that the amnesty should be passed on its own, or combined with some or all of Trump's immigration priorities? The Quinnipiac poll didn't ask. Other pollsters haven't either, probably because it is implausible that most people have an opinion at that level of detail. But the Harvard-Harris poll asked registered voters if they favor a deal that combined an amnesty with some Trump proposals, including an end to the diversity-lottery visa. It found 63 percent approval.

Quinnipiac has also found that 95 percent of respondents support "requiring background checks for all gun buyers." As Rampell points out, that includes huge majorities of Republican voters. But that poll wording leaves out the causes of controversy: whether private gun sales and gifts should be covered, and whether the checks should be used to form a registry. When the arguments have been aired in referendums, expanded background checks have not generated that nearly universal support. Washington State passed a background-check law with 60 percent of the vote, Nevada with a razor-thin 50.45 percent majority. In Maine, a background-check referendum narrowly lost with 48 percent of the vote.

Rampell cites an NPR/Ipsos poll finding that roughly 80 percent of Americans want to ban "assault-style weapons," a number that again includes most Republicans. But polls on this question have been all over the place. Gallup, the CBS News poll and the Washington Post-ABC News poll all found 48 percent to 50 percent support for banning assault weapons; Quinnipiac found 67 percent.

Polling is useful. We can confidently say that the vast majority of Americans want to let people who came here illegally as minors stay and apply for citizenship, because that's what the polls consistently tell us. But seeing poll results can lead us to overestimate how firm a lot of people's views really are.

My point isn't to let Republicans off the hook. But if you're angry at Republicans over these issues, you shouldn't be angry at them for failing to follow public opinion. You should be angry at them for failing to lead the country in the right direction.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Texarkana Gazette Comments Policy

The Texarkana Gazette web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Gazette web sites and any content on the Gazette web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Gazette, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Gazette web sites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Texarkana Gazette
15 Pine Street
Texarkana, TX 75501
Phone: 903-794-3311
Email: webeditor@texarkanagazette.com