04/24/2013 04:56 pm ET Updated Apr 26, 2013

POLLSTER UPDATE: Gun Vote Backlash -- Or Not?


One poll finds little anger over the Senate gun vote while another shows a backlash against New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte. Both are probably right. And PPP goes where other pollsters fear to tread and triumphs...again. This is the HuffPost Pollster update for Wednesday, April 24, 2013.

POST-PEW POLL FINDS MORE DISAPPOINTMENT THAN ANGER OVER GUN VOTE - Pew Research Center: "The key Senate vote that halted gun control legislation last week is drawing a mixed reaction from the American public: 47% express negative feelings about the vote while 39% have a positive reaction to the Senate's rejection of gun control legislation that included background checks on gun purchases. Overall, 15% say they are angry this legislation was voted down and 32% say they are disappointed. On the other side, 20% say are very happy the legislation was blocked, while 19% say they are relieved." [Pew Research]

More about gun rights than background checks - WaPo's Cillizza and Sullivan: "Viewed broadly, the new Post-Pew poll numbers suggest that, in the end, the Senate vote last week wound up functioning in the minds of most Americans as a sort of stand-in for how they feel about gun rights more generally as opposed to the specifics (background checks in particular) of the legislation." While polls found 80 to 90 percent favoring the background check proposal, a February Pew/USA Today survey found Americans split over whether controlling gun ownership (50 percent) or protecting gun rights (46 percent) is a higher priority. [WaPost, Pew Research]

BUT IN NEW HAMPSHIRE, AYOTTE FACES 'BACKLASH' - Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling (PPP): "Gun show background checks are pretty universally popular in New Hampshire...and [Sen.] Kelly Ayotte is facing some serious backlash from voters in the state for voting against them last week. Ayotte now has a negative approval rating with 44% of voters giving her good marks and 46% disapproving. That's down a net 15 points from the last time we polled on her, in October, when she had a 48% approval with 35% disapproving." [PPP]

Ayotte's negatives up most with independents and moderates - "Forty-five percent of independents in the state disapproved of Ayotte, up 13 points since October...Among the critical third of voters who described themselves as moderates, disapproval of Ayotte increased by 21 points, with two-thirds saying her vote against background checks made them less likely to vote for her." [HuffPost]

Inconsistent findings? Not really. The Post/Pew poll also found generally more negative reactions to the failure of the gun legislation in states where both senators voted yes and more positive reactions in states where both senators voted no. In short, the votes tended to follow general attitudes about gun rights vs. gun control. [Pew Research]

Similarly, as Nate Silver observed earlier this week, senators in states with higher rates of gun ownership were far more likely to oppose the legislation, while very few voted no in states where the rate of gun ownership is less than 42 percent, especially if they are facing reelection in 2014. [NYTimes]

In Ayotte's New Hampshire, only 30 percent own guns. Only Senators Marco Rubio (FL - 25 percent) and Mark Kirk (IL - 20 percent) represent states with lower gun ownership rates. If a backlash is going to happen anywhere, it would be against these senators among general election swing voters.

TNR's Alec MacGinnis: "Don't think there's a gun vote backlash? Check out what Ayotte's facing in NH...A deluge of letters to editor...A very rough ad against her...a brutal cartoon...And a poll showing her approval rating down 15 points from a few months ago." [@AlecMacGinnis via Storify]

A 'POLL SNOB'S' MEA CULPA - In the city council special election in the District of Columbia on Tuesday, incumbent Democrat Anita Bonds led Democratic challenger Elissa Silverman (32 to 28 percent) with all precincts counted, but not absentee ballots. Republican Patrick Mara ran in third place with 23 percent of the vote. Credit to PPP, whose poll we critiqued in Tuesday's update, for showing Bonds leading and for capturing the Silverman surge that took DC's political establishment by surprise. [DCBOE, HuffPollster]

@ppppolls: "Our much maligned DC City Council poll had Anita Bonds 6 up on Elissa Silverman and Patrick Mara. She beat Silverman by 5 and Mara by 9."

@unhhockey83 "ppppolls Maligned by who? Angry right-wingers?"

@ppppolls: "@unhhockey83 More poll snobs than anything else." [@ppppolls]

Do you believe in magic? - A friend of HuffPollster emailed last night: "I swear [PPP pollster Tom] Jensen could have a second career as a magician." Perhaps. But if there's a problem here, it's not with PPP, but rather with those who see what pollsters do as magic. It's not. And in an era of single-digit response rates, our findings are always worth treating with skepticism, especially where sample coverage rates are as sketchy as they are in D.C. That was the point of our critique.

Before treating any poll numbers as magical, consider that poll accuracy is about more than getting the horse race right at the end. PPP's vote preference numbers in their recent D.C. poll, for example, were based on the 86 percent of registered DC voters who said they would definitely or probably vote. But only 10 percent actually voted (perhaps 11 percent once the absentees are counted). So how accurate was the poll?

We have little doubt that the very low response rates many polls now get produces what pollsters call a "response bias" toward voters. Just before and election, truly likely voters are more willing to stay on the phone, and non-voters are more likely to hang up. And that phenomenon may explain how PPP and other pollsters come as close as they do to election results, given inflated "likely voter" percentages. But if that circumstance is what made the horse race numbers right for the PPP DC poll, what does it say about the results for seven other questions on the survey that were supposed to represent all registered voters accurately. Did they? [DCMJ]

MOST SAY MEDIA COVERED BOMBINGS RESPONSIBLY, THOUGH CNN RANKS LOW - Huff Post Pollster's Emily Swanson: "Americans have mostly positive views of the way the media performed in covering the Boston Marathon bombings, according to two new polls released this week. But a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds that Americans ranked CNN, which was criticized after the network falsely reported an arrest had been made in the case, as among the least believable television sources of news on the topic." [HuffPost]

WEDNESDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to more news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:

-Fox News poll finds "widespread agreement" that border security should precede a path to citizenship. [Fox News]

-Nancy Pelosi is the best known but most disliked of the congressional leaders, though Reid, Boehner and McConnell all have net negative favorable ratings. Gallup

- 93 percent of Americans see no economic recovery [Pew Research]

- Frank Newport considers why the Senate defeated a proposal that 91 percent of the public supports. [Gallup]

- Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies shares its analysis of focus groups conducted among Hispanic voters. [POS]

- Sean Trende agrees with Harry Enten, immigration reform will be no "bonanza" for Democrats. [RCP]

- The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and the Siena Research Institute team up to measure how New York and New Jersey residents react to Hurricane Sandy recovery proposals. [[NewJerseyNewsRoom, Eagleton, Siena]

- An AP-NORC survey finds American "underestimate their chances of needing long-term care as they get older -- and are taking few steps to get ready." [AP]

- Andrew Gelman ponders a working paper showing a relationship between "tweet share" and raw vote margin. [The Monkey Cage]

- AdAge reports on "what's really happening with Obama's voter data." [AdAge]

- The American Academy of Political and Social Science to host a panel on survey non-response on Capitol Hill on Friday morning. [AAPSS].

- Stephen Colbert interviews Thomas Herndon, the graduate student who caught the Excel error and questionable data used in the Reinhart-Rogoff paper. [ColbertNation]