“Well, yes, obviously,” you’re thinking. It’s not a secret that Republicans support gun rights. But that’s what makes this story — or stories, rather — interesting. People who are familiar with the results of this poll are curiously eager to share the takeaway from it with the media, even though it allegedly says exactly what you’d expect it to say.
But they’re also being very, very coy about what it says exactly. No numbers have been released. “Gun control would be a problem politically for Trump” is about as specific as they’re willing to get. How come, if they’re otherwise willing to chatter to reporters about it?
The Times reported on the poll yesterday, with uncharacteristic vagueness:
President Trump assured Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, on Thursday that he was still considering legislation that could include background checks for gun buyers. But White House aides said they had polling data showing that gun control was politically problematic for the president, according to two people briefed on the meeting…
Mr. Trump’s aides were on hand for the meeting, and the president told Mr. Manchin that a background checks bill that the senator had pushed for with a Republican counterpart, Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, was still on the table, according to the people briefed on the discussion.
But the polling data, White House aides said, indicated that the issue does not help the president with his core base of supporters, according to the people briefed on the meeting.
That’s as much detail as the story provides on the poll’s findings even though its existence and its influence on Trump’s thinking is the entire point of the article. ABC posted its own story about the poll last night — and they’re as much in the dark as the Times is:
As President Donald Trump has mulled acting on gun control legislation in the wake of a string of mass shootings, data gathered by the president’s campaign showed that supporting any gun control measures would pose a problem for him politically going into the 2020 election season, according to sources familiar with the results.
The data is comprised of campaign polling conducted before recent back-to-back mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, that left 31 dead — as well as more recent outreach to his base and independent voters, according to the sources. ABC News has not independently reviewed the data. The sources said it’s likely to inform Trump’s decision on whether to act on any gun control legislation, despite separate nationwide polling showing widespread public support for tougher gun sale background checks.
The White House requested data from the campaign on how Trump’s base and independent voters would react if Trump were to support gun control measures late last month, after the Dayton and El Paso shootings, the sources told ABC News.
That’s all ABC knows. Note, by the way, how similar the phrasing in both stories is: Gun control will pose a “political problem” for Trump in 2020, which is so vague as to be *almost* meaningless. A political problem how, exactly? Are 80 percent of Republicans against universal background checks, in which case Trump signing them into law would be catastrophic for his chances next year? Or are 10 percent of Republicans opposed to them, which still technically qualifies as “politically problematic” given how tight the margins were in the Rust Belt in 2016? Did the poll define Trump’s “core base of supporters” as the entire Republican electorate or as some much smaller subset of that, like “campaign donors” or “Fox News viewers”? How did they define “gun control” for respondents — as a broad unspecified term or with particular proposals like background checks, red-flag laws, an assault-weapons ban, and so on? If they polled particular proposals, was Trump’s “core base” adamantly opposed to all or did some poll better than others?
I ask because there are lots of public polls about guns that include numbers on Republican opinion. Quinnipiac asked about universal background checks just two weeks ago. Result:
Public polls on UBCs routinely show support at those levels. If Team Trump’s poll found similar numbers, I’m curious to know why they think a background-checks would be “politically problematic” for him. Here’s the result from Quinnipiac, meanwhile, when people were asked if they support or oppose red-flag laws (“allowing the police or family members to petition a judge to remove guns from a person that may be at risk for violent behavior”):
Nearly three-quarters support there too. To be sure, Republicans didn’t support every gun-control proposal. They split 37/59 on a new assault-weapons ban and 18/77 on a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons already in circulation. But they’re more open to regulation than I would have thought, and sometimes in surprising ways. Here’s how things shake out when people are asked if they support or oppose “requiring individuals to obtain a license before being able to purchase a gun”:
Sixty-nine percent *of Republicans* support letting government license gun ownership? I’d love to compare Team Trump’s data.
The public polling may solve part of the mystery about the leaks to the NYT and ABC. Maybe Trump and his team are nervous that publicly available data like Quinnipiac’s is building momentum for gun-control measures like UBC and red-flag laws. “Our data says otherwise,” they’re insisting, “and no, you can’t see it.” But if that’s what’s going on here, who’s the target audience? Whose spine are they trying to steel with rumors of secret numbers showing that Republican voters really do hate universal background checks? It can’t be congressional Republicans. They have their own internal pollsters, and they know better by now than to trust Trump. It can’t be MAGA Nation either. They don’t care what polls like Quinnipiac’s say. They expect Trump to stand firm and protect their priorities even if the entire world opposes them.
So why is the Trump campaign so eager to leak the bottom-line result from the poll but also so reluctant to share details? I don’t get it.