NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – New Jerseyans’ concern about gun violence in America has eased somewhat since the Sandy Hook shootings in December, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. In the week following the school shooting in Connecticut, 77 percent of Garden State residents were “very concerned.” That number has dropped to 69 percent. The same percentage believes it is more important to control gun ownership than to protect gun owner rights, a slight dip from 72 percent in December.
“The immediate aftermath of Sandy Hook saw a clear increase in concern about guns in New Jersey,” noted David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “As that particular shooting fades in the public eye, concern has also dropped, though it remains slightly above pre-Sandy Hook numbers.”
About a third of New Jerseyans (34 percent) believe easy availability is the primary cause of gun violence in America, with inadequate background checks (16 percent) and how parents raise their children (15 percent) as distant runners-up. Also, 48 percent have an unfavorable impression of the National Rifle Association, while 28 percent view the NRA favorably. New Jerseyans are split on whether stricter gun laws would actually reduce the amount of violence in the country.
Results are from a poll of 796 adult New Jerseyans conducted statewide among landline and cell phone households from Jan. 30 – Feb. 3 with a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.
Concern and support for gun control return to pre-Newtown levels
Two months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, the intensity of concern over gun violence has subsided, returning close to levels reported in an August 2012 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. In particular, concern has dropped most among groups that saw the largest increases in December. Sixty percent of men are now “very concerned,” down 11 points, while the number of very concerned women dropped only five points to 78 percent, leaving an 18-point gender gap.
Fifty-five percent of Republicans remain very concerned, a drop of four points. Among Democrats and independents, the decrease is greater: very concerned Democrats declined 10 percentage points to 78 percent. Independents declined nine points to 66 percent.
Concurrent with a decline in concern has been increased support for gun owner rights among some groups. While 69 percent of adults favor gun control over owners’ rights, there is a dramatic shift since December in the 20 percent of households with a gun owner. Immediately after Sandy Hook, 57 percent of residents in gun-owning households said gun control was more important than protecting gun rights. Now, this same group favors protecting their gun rights over gun controls, 51 percent to 42 percent.
Republicans also have shifted their views: 50 percent prefer protection of gun owner rights, up from 38 percent two months ago. Sixty-six percent of independents and 84 percent of Democrats, however, believe controlling gun ownership is more important. Among those who are unfavorable toward the NRA, 86 percent believe gun control to be more important; those with a favorable impression of the NRA take the opposite position, 60 percent to 38 percent.
The poll also finds the importance of gun control as an issue also has declined somewhat. In December, 26 percent saw it as the most important issue facing America. Today 18 percent feel the same way. Another 52 percent say it is one of a few very important issues, a drop of only two points.
“In the immediate shock of the Sandy Hook shootings, partisanship and self-interest gave way briefly to a common belief that gun violence had become a serious problem and gun control was necessary,” said Redlawsk. “But we are beginning to see the usual partisan differences again, with Republicans supporting gun owners, and owners reasserting their rights. At the same time, these positions are not shared by the majority of New Jerseyans.”
NRA favorability low in New Jersey
The NRA is not looked upon favorably by many New Jerseyans, with 28 percent holding a favorable impression compared to 48 percent who do not. This puts the NRA only slightly ahead of Garden Staters’ perceptions of Congress, which have been endemically low.
Fifty-five percent of Republicans favor the NRA, compared to 17 percent of Democrats and 25 percent of independents. Men favor the group by 33 percent to 23 percent, and respondents 65 and older are more favorable than those under 30, 32 percent to 20 percent. Regionally, the NRA’s strongest support comes from the Shore counties (32 percent) and the Philadelphia suburbs/south Jersey (31 percent). Twenty-four percent of northeast urban New Jerseyans favor the NRA.
President Obama’s proposals
New Jerseyans strongly support President Obama’s recently announced proposals and executive orders on guns: more than 90 percent favor improved mental health services, universal background checks and a tougher background check system. While support is lower, three-quarters are in favor of renewing the federal ban on military-style assault weapons, and limiting access to high-capacity ammunition magazines. There is slightly less support for providing incentives to hire school resource officers and counselors, although about seven in 10 support this specific proposal.
Gun-owning households are just as likely to support improved mental health services as those without, according to the poll. Democrats are stronger supporters than Republicans by 92 percent to 85 percent. Perhaps surprisingly, given recent NRA rhetoric, a similar pattern exists for universal background checks, with 93 percent of New Jerseyans in favor, including more than nine in 10 gun-owning households, nongun owners, and across all partisan affiliations.
The president’s proposal to institute a stronger background check system produces a slightly different picture: 83 percent of gun-owning households support it compared to 92 percent without. Similarly, 81 percent of NRA backers support the measure versus 95 percent of opponents. Republicans (at 85 percent) are also less likely to support it than Democrats (96 percent) and slightly less likely than independents (87 percent).
Three-quarters of New Jerseyans support the White House’s proposed renewal of the federal assault weapons ban, but those in households with guns are 17 points less likely than those without guns to support it (62 percent versus 79 percent). Likewise, NRA backers are much less supportive than detractors, 59 percent to 88 percent, and Democrats (83 percent) are stronger supporters than Republicans (70 percent) and independents (69 percent). Similar divisions are seen with the proposal to limit access to high-capacity ammunition magazines: gun owners (64 percent), NRA proponents (55 percent), and Republicans (65 percent) are all less likely to support it.
As for providing incentives to schools to high resource officers and counselors, this proposal receives a large majority of but not universal support. Those in gun-owning households (58 percent), NRA backers (67 percent), independents (61 percent), Republicans (67 percent), whites (66 percent), and older respondents are all slightly less favorable of this particular initiative.
What causes gun violence and how effective are gun laws?
One-third of New Jersey adults say the easy availability of guns is the cause of gun violence, followed by 16 percent who blame inadequate background checks, and 15 percent who place the blame on how parents raise their children. Another 13 percent blame inadequate treatment of the mentally ill while 8 percent think violent video games are to blame.
New Jerseyans are split on whether stricter gun laws would reduce violence, with 47 percent agreeing and 47 percent disagreeing. But among gun-owning households, 69 percent say stricter gun laws would not reduce violence compared to 53 who feel differently. Similarly, 74 percent of NRA supporters believe violence would not be reduced, compared to only 28 percent of opponents. A solid majority of Democrats (61 percent) say stricter laws would reduce violence, but only 39 percent of independents and 35 percent of Republicans agree.
Media Contact: David Redlawsk
732-932-9384, ext. 285