Believe what you will about modern opinion polls—particularly those during the general election cycle—but these days they’re often surprisingly accurate and reflect the general consensus of how many Americans vote and think.
Nineteenth century author and humorist, Mark Twain, once said, “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.” It's an adage that was often pointed out to me as a mush-headed student in journalism school decades ago. But today I take polls and statistics at face value, and use them for what they are: interesting snapshots of current events and public opinions.
Let's talk guns.
Take, for instance, the results of a new survey conducted last week by one of the country’s leading pollsters, Rasmussen Reports. In a telephone survey of 1,000 “likely voters” conducted September 18-19, 2011, pollsters asked participants to rate their positive and negative perception about the labels attached to political candidates.
The polling results found that 39 percent of those surveyed considered it positive when a candidate is described as “pro-gun,” 27 percent saw it as a negative and 30 percent said it lies somewhere in between. Further, most respondents identified themselves as Republicans (62 percent), and a plurality of voters not affiliated with either party (42 percent) thought being labeled pro-gun was positive, while 49 percent of Democrats thought the pro-gun tag was negative.
So what does it all mean? That Americans in general—despite political leanings—are supporters of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And that’s a good thing, no matter how you look at it.
On a similar subject, Rasmussen Reports' telephone survey conducted in July indicated that the National Rifle Association (NRA) has significantly more credibility with likely voters than the National Education Association (NEA), and far more than the environmental behemoth, Sierra Club.
The favorable/unfavorable percentages shook out like this: NRA—54/41 percent; NEA—42/37 percent; Sierra Club—35/32 percent.
Of those polled by Rasmussen, 54 percent viewed the NRA favorably, with 29 percent having a very favorable opinion, 41 percent with an unfavorable view, and 25 percent with a very unfavorable view. Among those polled, 80 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of unaffiliated voters share a favorable opinion of the NRA, while 63 percent of Democrats view the group unfavorably.
A separate Rasmussen poll performed in January of this year found that only 36 percent of Americans support stricter gun control laws, while a 56 percent majority prefer less-stringent gun-ownership laws and regulations.
But wherever you stand on the significance of polling data and statistics, it’s hard to disagree with the late Aaron Levenstein, professor emeritus at Baruch College, New York, who said: “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.”