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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

July 3, 2019

Wason Center Gun Control Surveys

Virginia voters strongly back gun control policies, with limited partisan division, Wason polls show.

Summary of Key Findings

  1. In 2016 and 2018 surveys, voters overall strongly supported several specific gun control proposals, including requiring background checks on all gun sales, limiting concealed carry, and banning assault-style weapons.
  2. A slight majority of Virginia voters said it is more important to control who owns guns than to protect gun ownership rights.
  3. Partisan and gender gaps showed on the general question of gun control versus gun rights, with Democrats and women strongly favoring control.
  4. Overall support for specific gun control policies show general bipartisan agreement. Republican voters were strongly in favor of requiring background checks and limiting concealed carry, with Democrats' support even stronger. On banning assault-style weapons, Republicans were evenly split or slightly opposed, with Democrats overwhelmingly in favor.

For further information contact:

Dr. Quentin Kidd, Director
qkidd@cnu.edu
Office: (757) 594-8499
Mobile: (757) 775-6932

Dr. Rachel Bitecofer, Assistant Director
rachel.bitecofer@cnu.edu
Office: (757) 594-8997
Mobile: (541) 729-9824

Analysis

In response to the May 31 mass shooting in Virginia Beach, Governor Ralph Northam has called the Virginia General Assembly into special session on July 9 to focus on gun control.  The Wason Center polled Virginia voters on gun control in 2018 and 2016, and the relevant results of those surveys are compiled below.

Voter opinion across partisan lines has favored several specific gun control proposals, while a partisan and gender divide shows on the general question of gun rights versus gun control.

When asked whether they generally think it is more important to protect the rights of gun owners or control who can buy guns, a majority overall said it is more important to control who can buy guns (54%-41% in 2018; 55%-41% in 2016).  Women strongly favored gun control (64%-30% in 2018; 61%-36% in 2016); men somewhat favored gun rights (52%-46% in 2018; 49%-45% in 2016).  Democrats overwhelmingly favored gun control (82%-13% in 2018; 82%-15% in 2016); Republicans strongly favored gun rights (64%-32% in 2018; 66%-31% in 2016).

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When asked about making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks, a strong majority of all voters said they support it (84% in 2018, 88% in 2016).  A solid majority supported banning assault-style weapons (65% in 2018, 62% in 2016).  A strong majority opposed allowing anyone who legally owns a gun to conceal carry without a permit (76% in 2018, 84% in 2016).

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The strong overall majorities derive from bipartisan agreement.  With the exception of banning assault-style weapons, Republican voters were generally strongly in favor of other specific gun control measures, just not to the same degree as Democrats.  Republican voters strongly supported making all gun sales subject to background checks (76% in 2018, 81% in 2016).  Democratic voters favored that proposal nearly unanimously (96% in 2018 and 2016).

Republicans strongly opposed allowing anyone who legally owns a gun to conceal carry without a permit (72% in 2018, 77% in 2016).  Again, Democrats opposed that policy even more strongly (88% in 2018, 93% in 2016).

On banning assault-style weapons, Republican voters split evenly on the proposal in 2018 (49%-49%) and opposed it by a bare majority in 2016 (50%-45%).  Democrats overwhelmingly supported such a ban (84%-16% in 2018, 86%-12% in 2016).

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"With some close contests in the November election, this gun control disconnect among Republican voters could put Republican lawmakers in a tight spot in the special session," Wason Center Director Quentin Kidd said.  "Their voters oppose gun control generally but strongly favor specific gun control proposals that will likely be on the agenda in the special session."

From February 2018 Wason Center Poll

Gun Control: Support, but clear partisan differences.  There is broand support for several gun control measures that have been introduced in the General Assembly in recent years.  A strong majority of 84% of voters support background checks for private gun sales (Q16a).  Support for this measure is strong across the board, with even 76% of self-identified Republicans saying they support it.  Nearly two-thirds (65%) of voters say they support banning assault-style weapons (Q16b), with support highest among women, African Americans, and Democrats, and lower but still a majority among men and younger voters.  Republicans are evenly split, with 49% supporting a ban and 49% opposing it.  Just over three-fourths (76%) of voters oppose allowing anyone who owns a gun legally to conceal-carry that gun without a permit (Q16c).  Opposition is highest among women, Richmond/Central Virginia voters, and Democrats, and lower but still a strong majority among men, residents of Southwest/Southside, and Republicans.

Virginia voters say they generally think it is more important to control who can buy guns than it is to protect the rights of Virginians to own guns (Q19).  Just over a majority (54%) say it is more important to control who can buy a gun, with 31% saying they feel that way strongly, while 41% say it is more important to protect the rights of Virginians to own guns, with 29% saying they feel that way strongly.  A majority of men, resident of Southwest/Southside, and Republicans say that it is more important to protect the right to own guns.

"We see from these results why Democrats feel comfortable pushing for gun control in Virginia," said Dr. Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center.  "Support for gun control is generally very strong among voters across the populous Golden Crescent, where Democrats win elections." 

From February 2016 Wason Center Poll

Gun Control: Voters are willing.  In 2013, Terry McAuliffe won a close race for governor while touting his "F" rating from the NRA.  In 2015, Democrats made gun control a central issue in some key state Senate races, to mixed results.  Why are Democrats seemingly more eager to talk about guns and gun control today than at any time since the 1994 midterm elections?  In part because the data suggest that the voting public, especially the Democratic coalition, is amenable to gun control arguments.

By the slightest margin, a majority of 51% of voters say they support Attorney General Herring's decision not to recognize concealed carry permits from 25 states that do not have the same standards as Virginia (Q17).  While the issue clearly demonstrates a partisan divide (Democrats and liberals strongly support it while Republicans and conservatives strongly oppose it), the vote-rich regions of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads support the decision (55% and 51%, respectively) as do ideological moderates (53%), political independents (52%), and women (56%).

Voters are slightly more opposed to (49%) than supportive of (46%) a blanket recognition of concealed carry permits from any state (Q18).  Again, while the usual partisan contours exist, opponents are aided by the views of ideological moderates (52% oppose), voters in Northern Virginia (54% oppose), and women (50% oppose).

Among Virginia voters, there is a small but significant majority who say it is more important to control who can buy guns (55%) than it is to protect the rights of Virginians to own guns (41%) (Q19).  The intensity among Democrats (82%) and liberals (81%) for controlling gun ownership is greater than the intensity among Republicans (66%) and conservatives (62%) for protecting the rights of gun owners.  African Americans are strongly of the view that controlling who can own guns (84%) is more important than protecting people's rights to own guns.  Women, political independents, and ideological moderates are also more supportive of controlling ownership than protecting rights.

On four specific policy proposals related to guns and gun control - two typically advocated by gun control proponents and two typically advocated by gun rights proponents - voters lean toward gun control in all but one.  On the question of making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks (Q20a), 88% are supportive and the support crosses all demographic, social, and political categories.  On the question of banning assault-style weapons (Q20b), 62% of voters are supportive, but there is a sharp partisan and ideological divide.  What drives opinion is the strong support of women (75%), moderates (64%), and independents (66%).

On the question of allowing anyone who legally owns a gun to conceal carry without a permit (Q20c), voters are strongly opposed (84%).  Opposition is across party lines and widespread.  However, a small majority (52%) of voters are in favor of allowing faculty at Virginia colleges and universities to conceal carry (Q20d), and support for this proposal is propelled by stronger than average support from independents (59%), ideological moderates (54%), and those under 45 (64%).

Virginia has emerged in the last decades as a battleground state, and if the 2013 gubernatorial race and the 2015 state legislative races are any indication, gun control will be a central part of the debate going forward.

"Hillary Clinton has certainly not been shy in talking about gun control on the presidential campaign trail," said Dr. Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center.  "These data suggest that Democrats who campaign on gun control in Virginia will be dependent upon key elements of their electorate showing up to vote: women, minorities, independents, and voters under 45.  These voters explain why Democrats are more eager to talk about gun control."

February 2018 Survey Data

Field Dates: January 14-February 4, 2018

870 registered Virginia voters

Overall toplines margin of error = +/- 3.6%

Methodology: The results of this poll are based on 870 interviews of registered Virginia voters, including 372 on landline and 498 on cell phone, conducted Jan. 14-Feb. 4, 2018.  Percentages may not equal 100 due to rounding.  The margin of error for the whole survey is +/- 3.6% at the 95% level of confidence.  This means that if 50% of respondents indicate a topline view on an issue, we can be 95% confident that the population's view on that issue is somewhere between 46.4% and 53.6%.  All error margins have been adjusted to account for the survey's design effect, which is 1.2 in this survey.  The design effect is a factor representing the survey's deviation from a simple random sample and takes into account decreases in precision due to sample design and weighting procedures.  Sub-samples have a higher margin of error.  In addition to sampling error, the other potential sources of error include non-response, question wording, and interviewer error.  The response rate (AAPOR RRI Standard Definition) for the survey was 18%.  Five callbacks were employed in the fielding process.  Live calling was conducted by trained interviewers at the Wason Center for Public Policy Survey Research Lab at Christopher Newport University.  The data reported here are weighted using an iterative weighting process on sex, age, race, and region of residence to reflect as closely as possible the demographic composition of Virginia.

February 2016 Survey Data

Field Dates: January 18-29, 2016

804 registered Virginia voters

Overall toplines margin of error = +/- 3.8%

Methodology: The results of this poll are based on 804 interviews of registered Virginia voters, including 430 on landline and 374 on cell phone, conducted Jan. 18-29, 2016.  Percentages may not equal 100 due to rounding.  The margin of error for the whole survey is +/- 3.5% at the 95% level of confidence.  All error margins have been adjusted to account for the survey's design effect, which is 1.0 in this survey.  The design effect is a factor representing the survey's deviation from a simple random sample and takes into account decreases in precision due to sample design and weighting procedures.  Sub-samples will have higher margins of error.  In addition to sampling error, the other potential sources of error include non-response, question wording, and interviewer error.  The response rate (AAPOR RRI Standard Definition) for the survey was 12%.  Five callbacks were employed in the fielding process.  Live calling was conducted by trained interviewers at the Wason Center for Public Policy Survey Research Lab at Christopher Newport University.  The data reported here are weighted using an iterative weighting process on sex, age, race, and region of residence to reflect as closely as possible the demographic composition of Virginia.  The survey was designed by Dr. Quentin Kidd of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.

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