Reason-Rupe Poll: 52 Percent of Americans Say Sandy Hook Is Being Exploited for Political Gain

As gun rights and gun control are debated in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, a majority of Americans say elected officials are “exploiting” the tragedy. The new Reason-Rupe poll finds 52 percent of Americans believe that elected officials are exploiting the tragedy for political gain, while 41 percent feel elected officials are acting responsibly.

Democrats differ sharply from independents and Republicans on the issue. Seventy-one percent of Republicans and 60 percent of independents think the tragedy is being politicized, while just 32 percent of Democrats believe so.

Reason-Rupe finds that over half, 51 percent, of Americans say people “should be allowed to own assault weapons,” while 44 percent say people “should be prohibited from owning assault weapons.” Once again there is a substantial political divide: 68 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of independents say assault weapons should be allowed. However, just 33 percent of Democrats agree.

Democrats, who normally count on the youth vote, may be surprised to find that 70 percent of 18-24 year-olds and 58 percent of 25-34 year-olds say “assault weapons should be allowed.” Similarly, Republicans, who usually rely upon the senior vote, will find that 57 percent of 55-64 year-olds and 61 percent of people over the age of 65 say assault weapons should be prohibited.

As Congress gets ready to debate new gun restrictions, just 27 percent of Americans say the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 would’ve helped avoid the tragedy if it were still in place. Over two-thirds, 67 percent, say the ban would not have helped avoid the shooting.

The public is split on what might have helped prevent the Newtown tragedy. When asked what might have helped prevent the shooting, 24 percent proposed better mental health treatment, 19 percent said stricter gun laws, 18 percent stressed better parenting and 17 percent suggested armed guards.

The poll also found little consensus when respondents were asked, open-ended, to actually define an assault weapon. Assault weapons were described as fully automatic machine guns in 29 percent of the responses. Twenty-seven percent of the answers defined assault weapons as any gun that fires rapidly, 23 percent focused on the size of the magazine or clip and 17 percent described them as any gun having the ability to fire multiple rounds.

The Reason-Rupe poll conducted live interviews with 1,000 adults on mobile (500) and landline (500) phones from January 17-21, 2013. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.8 percent. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide survey.

Of those surveyed, 52 percent approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing and 42 percent disapprove. The public is split over how the president is handling the economy, with 48 percent approving and 47 percent disapproving. Just 17 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing and 74 percent disapprove.

The full poll is online here (.pdf) and additional Reason-Rupe poll resources are available here. This is the latest in a series of Reason-Rupe public opinion surveys dedicated to exploring what Americans really think about government and major issues. This Reason Foundation project is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation.