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Why doesn't gun violence move voters like other issues?


Mass shootings, homicides, suicides - the United States is the outlier among affluent nations in all three areas. And the biggest contributor, of course, is guns. In poll after poll, a large number of Americans say that gun violence and gun safety is a priority. but that isn't reflected in their votes. Ashley Koning wanted to understand why that is, and we do, too, and that's why we called her. She's the director of the Rutgers Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling. Ashley Koning, thank you so much for joining us.

ASHLEY KONING: Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: So is it accurate that the issue of gun violence doesn't seem to compel voters in the same way as other issues, like, for example, the economy or abortion? And if that is true, why is that?

KONING: The unfortunate part is when we're looking at the most important problem, or what voters or Americans tell us is most important to their vote, gun control, gun safety usually doesn't make the list. It may be masked by something like crime or violence. But when we look at recent polling from Pew, Gallup and other national organizations, we see that, of course, it's the economy that's topping most important issues within the country, as well as things like immigration and terrorism and inflation and cost of living. We really don't see guns and firearms break through unless we're talking to younger voters.

MARTIN: There are a lot of kind of myths around voting behavior that, you know, we sort of pass on from generation to generation that may or may not be true. One of those kind of received wisdoms is that the issue of gun policy drives Republicans/conservative voters to the polls - or has - in ways that the issue of gun safety has not necessarily driven Democrats/progressives to the polls. Is that true?

KONING: I would say that it's not necessarily a myth because what we see in public opinion doesn't necessarily always match up with what voters are doing in real life. And so we do see, of course, large support for gun safety measures among Democrats. But it may not be the top issue that they're necessarily voting on or that's necessarily getting them to the voting booth. We do see that that has been more successful with Republican voters. But I would say potentially, within these past few election cycles, those kinds of strategies might be changing.

MARTIN: Interesting. In which way?

KONING: We see gun control kind of having the potential of what we've seen abortion do within the past couple of election cycles, with Democrats - may be able to utilize that. But also, we have to realize - weighing against the entire issue of the economy - how prevalent that is in voters' minds. And so they may support gun control. They may support gun control measures, but that may be not what's driving them to the voting booth.

MARTIN: We've been reporting over the last couple of weeks about gun violence. One of the things that struck us in our reporting was we talked to a lot of people who have been affected by gun violence. And when we asked them if it was going to affect how they voted, most of them didn't really think that politics was the solution. They were thinking more about community groups that had helped them, and I was just struck by that. What do you think that means?

KONING: Yeah. I mean, that's fascinating. And I think that harkens back to gun violence is something that should not be a political issue, but unfortunately, it very much is. And it has been incredibly politicized over the decades. And since we have seen so little movement in Congress and in administration after administration on gun violence, it may be something that voters, frankly, don't think can be solved in that manner.

MARTIN: What does it take? Or do we have any sense of circumstances under which this issue would move up or down under people's list of priorities?

KONING: We have seen so many tragic events that we think would have been the catalyst for something like that, and nothing has really seemed to, in the end, eventually really charge up voters and policymakers alike. And so, you know, it's hard to vote on it when it's not on the radar of voters and it's something that policymakers won't touch.

MARTIN: That's Ashley Koning. She's the director of Rutgers' Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling. Ashley Koning, thank you so much for joining us.

KONING: Thanks for having me, Michel.

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