Thursday, May 02, 2013


Mediaite's Tommy Christopher is banging his head on his desk because polls show that Americans' opinions on guns make no sense:
... Recently, Pew polled a group of people who presumably also support background checks at around 90%, yet only 47% of them were displeased that the Republicans killed the background check law. That means that a great many of the poll's respondents were "happy" or "relieved" that a law they supported did not pass. What the hell?

... in [a] Gallup poll out this week, respondents were asked "Do you think the Senate should or should not have passed the measure to expand background checks for gun purchases?"

A large majority, 65%, said yes, although that's significantly less than the 90% support background checks have enjoyed in nearly every poll.

Then, these exact same people were asked "Would you vote for or against a law that would require background checks for all gun purchases?"

Not only is this almost exactly the same question, but the wording on the second question is actually slightly stronger than the first. The result? 83% said they would vote yes, which means that 51% of the people who didn't say the Senate should have passed "expanded" background checks said they would, themselves, vote to pass background checks for all gun purchases.
So why would people who support stricter background checks not support a stricter-background-check law (even though they'd vote for one themselves in a referendum)?

Well, there's yet another poll today, from The New York Times and CBS, and it has similar results: 88% support for background checks on all purchases, but 41% support for President Obama's approach to the gun issue.

And that seems to be the point, at least according to one respondent:
"I'm for stricter gun laws, but the reason I favor the Republicans over the Democrats and the liberals on gun laws is because they have always been against the Second Amendment and the right to own guns," said Jim Hensley, 69, a Republican from Grandville, Mich., in an interview after the poll was conducted.
In other words: Republicans did what I didn't want them to do, Democrats wanted to do what I did want them to do -- but I still support Republicans because I've always heard that Democrats disagree with me.

Really, that's it: A lot of conservatives and right-centrists support the policy of stronger background checks, but they're so conditioned to distrust Democrats that they can't support the policy they support because Democrats support it.

This isn't about logic. It's about tribal loyalties and tribal hatreds, the latter reinforced by decades of tribal-hatred propaganda.

Mr. Hensley goes on to say:
"Yes, I believe the Republicans should have voted for background checks, and they should not legalize automatic weapons," Mr. Hensley added. "I was against the repeal of the ban on automatic weapons, and I don't support the N.R.A. But it's like marriage. You stick with your wife no matter what, and you don’t just ditch your political party on one issue."
So because of party loyalty, he opposes the party that does what he supports.

And in the Gallup poll, opponents of the actual background-check bill -- including the ones who'd have voted for a theoretical background-check referendum -- give reasons for their bill opposition that suggest loyalty to the NRA and its talking points:

Republicans and right-leaning groups understand how public opinion works. Democrats and liberal groups don't. Republicans and right-leaning groups know that the point is to create generalized feelings of hatred toward the other guys, as well as hatred on specific points, and reinforce that sense of tribalism every hour of every day.

It works. It's worked with virtually all of heartland white America. And our side still tries to fight back with logic and reason. That will never be enough.


Victor said...

PS's Senator Tommey confirmed that he couldn't get support, because it might be seen as helping the President:

"In the end it didn't pass because we're so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it," Toomey admitted on Tuesday in an interview with Digital First Media editors in the offices of the Times Herald newspaper in Norristown, Pa."

For more, Steve M., check out that other great Steve - Benen:

Yeah, you can't fight "Truthiness" with logic and/or statistics - it's impervious to things like that.

Conservatives, always play to an invidual's or group's "gut," and tribal loyalty.

Ten Bears said...

Yet you call yourselves civilized, and we savages.

No fear.

Erika Frensley said...

Something else leapt at me. The question regarding the Senate passing the bill was 65%, but the question about voting for a bill was 83%. Considering today's rhetoric, it's hard not to believe that people have no confidence in the Senate (aka, the evil government), but people have great confidence in what they would do themselves. The Right Wing has managed to lower and subvert any expectations of good coming out of government (aka, they can't tell us what to do), and raise and praise the expections of the individual (you gotta protect yourself because no one else will, etc). Of course, they don't see how things are interrelated - how can they vote on a bill unless a bill is proposed by Congress (aka, the evil gov)? Tribalism and segmentation destroy any part of understanding how things are related, cause and effect, or even simple logic.

Philo Vaihinger said...

"You don't just ditch your party on one issue."

Well, no.

Heck no.

Sarah C. said...

I think it might be part of a "conservative" way of thinking that predisposes people to be conservative, this listening to authority figures and close-minded, blind loyalty. Look at the way liberals reacted when Obama (foolishly, in my view, again tried to play the 'reasonable adult' card) put 'chained CPI' in his budget. Liberals went-- are still going-- nuts, throwing all sorts of fits. (I didn't, but that was only because I knew it had roughly the same chance of passing as I do of becoming an NBA player.)

Sarah C. said...

Also, this and most other polling results make perfect sense-- if you can call it that-- if you start with the baseline assumption that the vast majority of those being polled have no idea what they're talking about. Americans are notoriously low-information but amazingly willing to have opinions on things they know nothing about. And this ignorance is not at all helped by the fact that one entire political party is full of people who are flat-out delusional or habitual liars or some combination thereof and make a living from spreading not just mis-information (which seems to imply honest mistakes) as outright DIS-information.