By BRIAN HOWEY
There’s always something in Howey Politics Indiana polling that raises at least one eyebrow, and sometimes both.
And in the survey of 600 registered voters (April 18-21, +/-4 percent), it is that 83 percent of people support expanded gun background checks.
Bellwether Research pollster Christine Matthews, who has polled for former Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Indiana Republican Party, posed the question like this: “Do you favor or oppose requiring all gun buyers to pass a criminal background check, no matter where they buy the gun and no matter who they buy it from. If (favor/oppose) do you feel strongly or not so strongly about this?”
This came during the same week that U.S. Sen. Dan Coats joined a majority in the U.S. Senate in blocking the Manchin-Toomey legislation that would have expanded background checks to gun shows. In the ramp up to that vote, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others like former congresswoman Gabby Giffords had cited national polling that showed support in the 90th percentile.
But ... this is Indiana. This is a God, guns and guts state. I hear that from Republicans and Democrats. The HPI poll reveals that 47 percent of our respondents said there is a gun in their household.
So this 83 percent in favor to 15 percent opposed is surprising; no, it’s shocking.
Let’s mine down into the top lines and cross tabulations and see what’s going on here.
As for the top lines, 72 percent “strongly favor” the expanded check and 11 percent said they favor it. There were 11 percent who strongly opposed and 4 percent who oppose. And only 2 percent said they didn’t have a position. That is an extremely low number, suggesting that Hoosiers are willing to take a stand.
The opposition to background checks almost matches up with the 13 percent who say someone in their household is a member of the National Rifle Association, while 85 percent said no.
In the cross tabs, 76.7 percent of men favor the expansion and 89 percent of women. Among Republicans, 77.7 percent favored expansion and just 19.4 percent opposed. Among independents, 77.2 percent supported and 21.9 percent opposed and among Democrats it was 94.5 percent to 3.8 percent.
Let’s look at Republican women: 86.2 percent support the background checks and 70.4 percent “strongly favor.”
As in any poll, there is data that seems to collide. When we asked, in general, do you feel the laws covering the sale of guns should be more strict, less strike or the same, 45 percent said more strict, 8 percent less strict and 47 percent said keep them the same. With respondents in households with guns, 36 percent said more strict, 10 percent less strict and 54 percent wanted to keep the status quo. In non-gun households, 59 percent wanted stricter laws, 4 percent less strict and 37 percent the same.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column saying I just couldn’t understand how expanding background checks is an infringement on Second Amendment rights. But every Republican Member of the Indiana Congressional delegation brought that up as a qualifier, and Sen. Dan Coats ultimately lined up against Manchin-Toomey.
“While I appreciate the good-faith effort of Senators Manchin and Toomey, I am concerned their legislation would result in more problems with our existing background check system and would not address the underlying issues with gun violence,” Coats explained.
Coats is three years away from reelection, and while he gets an “A” from the Indiana NRA, his national rating is a C+. To his credit, his new legislative effort seeks to fix the current background check system and address mental health and school safety issues. But you wonder how his political team processes numbers like these.
When we asked the question, how often does the NRA reflect your views on guns, 10 percent said always, 30 percent said most of the time, 30 percent said only some of the time, and 30 percent said never. If you combine the “some of the time” (which you could reasonably expect to find strong support for the background checks our top lines suggest, and the “never” crowd), that’s 60 percent.
Politics is the art of perception. To listen to Coats and House Republicans, you’d have thought the top line numbers would be in reverse. But they aren’t.
What is a political reality is that the NRA will come in and lay down a lot of bucks (greenbacks, that is) and shoot out a lot of mail in scantly attended Republican primaries. That is the big driver here.
But even that is beginning to change. In the Illinois 2nd CD election to replace U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. this past winter, Bloomberg’s PAC dumped $2.2 million into Chicago media, which, of course, bleeds over into Northwest Indiana and his candidate, Robin Kelly, won. In the 1st and 2nd CDs, 85.7 percent favored the background check expansion, compared to 80.7 percent in both the Northeast and Southwest Indiana CDs.
So the billionaire Bloomberg is about to change the dynamic on associated political spending. And part of the facade that Hoosiers don’t want any change is showing some hairline fractures and cracks these days.
Maybe another way to look at this is to say, Indiana doesn’t produce any statesmen any more. But we have a lot of primary candidates.
— Brian Howey publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol.