04/18/2013 04:34 pm ET Updated Apr 26, 2013

POLLSTER UPDATE: Gun Control Polling Doesn't Equal Political Reality


Congress turns its back on a proposal that 80 to 90 percent of Americans support, and even the phony polls have us depressed. This is the HuffPost Pollster update for Thursday, April 18.

BACKGROUND CHECKS: HOW CAN SOMETHING WITH 90 PERCENT SUPPORT FAIL? - Following the Senate's failure to pass a gun-buyer background check bill on Wednesday, many are asking how it failed despite polls showing overwhelming support. CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser: "The most recent surveys included a CNN/ORC International poll released last week that indicated 86% of the public supported some form of background checks that are not currently required by law for gun sales, and an ABC News/Washington Post survey released Tuesday which indicated that 86% of Americans said they favored background checks for gun sales on the internet and at gun shows...'The American people are trying to figure out: How can something have 90% support and yet not happen?' said the president in comments made at the Rose Garden in the White House, an hour after the vote in the Senate.'" [CNN]

Was it intensity alone? - RealClearPolitics' Sean Trende: "If the public supports something 90%/10%, but it's the 10% that goes to the polls and votes on the issue, it will have trouble passing." [@SeanTrende]

But the ABC News/Washington Post poll found no such intensity gap. In addition to the overall 86 to 13 percent margin in favor of "a law requiring background checks on people being guns at gun shows or online," it also found 76 percent strongly in favor and just 9 percent strongly opposed. [WaPo]

Polls didn't test party labels? - Via Twitter, the Guardian's Harry Enten: "I beg some pollster to ask the following q: 'do you favor or oppose the gun law supported by President Obama?'" The implication? Though "the individual provisions poll quite highly...attach Obama's name...adios." [@ForecasterEnten]

Enten has a point about the polarizing effect of Obama's name. Yes, the gun bill has bipartisan sponsorship in the Senate, but President Obama was its most prominent backer, and Republican congressional leaders were opposed. The March ABC/WaPo poll found Americans closely divided on who they trust to handle "gun control," 42 percent Obama, 41 percent Republicans in Congress. [WaPo]

Symbolic issue? A similar and more direct explanation is that many senators believed the symbolic nature of the vote would outweigh public reactions to the substance of the legislation. @Fyodor: "Public may favor background checks but distrust politician voting for background checks as anti-gun." [Twitter]

In rural areas, any such symbolism worked against the bill. In early 2013, the Pew Research Center found Americans divided but tipping toward measures to "control gun ownership" rather than "protect the right of Americans to own guns" (by 51 to 45 percent in January and 50 to 46 percent in February). Yet while support for stricter gun laws was strong in urban areas and the suburbs, rural Americans preferred protecting gun rights by a 60 to 37 percent margin. Getting on the wrong side of that sentiment is what many Southern and Plains states senators feared, and what gave the National Rifle Association its leverage. [Pew Research]

EVEN THE FAKE POLLS ARE DEPRESSING "According to a new poll by the Pew Research Center, when reached for comment on this week, 93 percent of Americans responded 'Okay, enough's enough here, you have seriously got to be kidding me with this week,' with 84 percent saying 'Is it Sunday yet? What? How in the hell are we only at Thursday? What the hell is going on?' and 100 percent of Americans responding 'No, no, go ahead, just pile some more horrific shit on this hellish shitshow of a week. Have at it.'" [The Onion]

OUTLIERS FOR APRIL 18 - Links to other news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:

The Reuters/Ipsos poll finds Americans fear random violence more than foreign terrorism. [Reuters]

The state of the nation is "dismal," "festering" and "in a funk," polling reveals. [AP-GfK]

Kay Hagan is leading against possible Republican opponents in North Carolina; Cherie Berry leads the GOP primary field. [PPP]

Ohio Gov. John Kasich doesn't look so vulnerable against potential 2014 challengers. [Quinnipiac]

Derek Willis finds that the most vulnerable House members receive the most donations from their colleagues. [NYTimes]

A profile of Thomas Herndon, the student who took on two prominent economists and won. [Reuters]
David Wasserman shares Cook Political Report PVI scores for all 50 states for off-year elections since 1994. [@CookPolitical]

Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies shares a text analysis of all 50 state-of-the-state speeches given by governors this year. [POS]

Seth Masket sums up advice offered to political scientists on restoring their NSA funding. [MischiefsOfAction]

The South Florida Sun Sentinel explains its Pulitzer prize winning data analysis used to investigate speeding by off-duty police. [Sun Sentinel]