The Emperor’s New Polls: “Your Client Is Obviously Guilty!”

Wry Wing Politics” is one of the painfully small group of Twin Cities leftybloggers who don’t expressly deserve to be under police surveillance.

But that doesn’t mean WWP and its author, Joe Loveland, know how to take apart a complex issue, or dig beneath the hood of a lefty propaganda meme, better than the babbling bobbleheads at Minnesota Progressive Project.

Vide this piece about the polling claiming to show Minnesotans and Americans are lock-step in favor of universal background checks.  Loveland thinks the polls show it’s not even a debate anymore.

And on the surface – as in, the layer that a dust-rag and a spritz of Pledge removes – it looks like he might be onto something:

In politics, presidential candidates who win the support of over 60% of Americans are said to have won overwhelming “landslide” victories. Harding’s 60.3% in 1920. FDR’s 60.8% in 1936. Johnson’s 61.1% in 1964. and Nixon’s 60.7% in 1972. Landslides!

It is so difficult to get 60% of Americans to agree on politics, that such “landslide victories” are considered highly unusual indications of a historically overwhelming level of public sentiment.

So far, so good.  When Americans in all their infinite variety consider all the different issues and perceptions and angles that go into electing a president, a landslide like Reagan’s in 1984 (which, at 58.77%, is mighty close to 60%) is pretty much a mandate.

That’s with what should be a complex decision, like a Presidential election.  Now, you can look at the results of the past two elections and wonder if voters really do put all that much thought into elections, but let’s have some faith in The People and assume that there’s a certain amount of reasoning and, for most people, at least a week or two of thought that goes into elections.

But a public opinion poll? 

In Minnesota right now, Minnesotans of all walks of life, including Republicans, Independents, gun owners and Greater Minnesota citizens, are giving a landslide victory to gun background checks.

Loveland cites the Strib “Minnesota Poll”, which I’ll borrow here:

Pilfered without permission from “Wry Wing Politics”, but with a link back included. Go ahead. Click it. Click the picture. You know you want to.

Now, we’ve gone over this in the past; through most of its history, the “Minnesota Poll” has been a bald-faced DFL propaganda organ, so any conservative is going to distrust but verify their results.

However, I think there’s reason to believe they cleaned up their act in 2012 – the next election will be an interesting one.  So I’m not as inclined to reject the poll because it’s the Minnesota Poll as I used to be.  But they say “trust but verify”, and so I shall:

Loveland thinks he’s closing in for the kill:

The Minnesota Republicans’ point person on this issue, State Representative Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center) shrugs off this Star Tribune Minnesota Poll with a cavalier “nobody really believes those polls.”

  • Or this poll — CNN/ORC (89% support background checks)?
  • Or this poll — Quinnipiac (91% support background checks)?
  • Or this poll — Morning Joe/Marist (87% support background checks)?
  • Or this poll — CBS (90% support background checks)?
  • Or this poll — Fox News (85% support background checks)?
  • Or this poll — ABC/Washington Post (90% support support background checks)?
  • Or this poll — Pew/USA Today (83% support background checks)?
  • Or this poll — University of Connecticut (69% support background checks)?
  • Or this poll — Gallup (91% support background checks)?
  • Or this poll — Associated Press-GfK (84% support background checks)?

Before we address the polls, let’s take a quick trip back in time.


When I first started covering the war on the Second Amendment back in 1986, as a fairly newly-minted conservative talk show host on the weekend graveyard shift at KSTP, it was a very different world.  There were eight shall-issue states, and many states and cities with absolute gun bans.

And when I interviewed a woman, Margolyn Bijlefeld of the “National Coalition to Ban Handguns” (which later morphed into either the Brady Factory or the VPC, I forget which), she flogged a set of polling stats that showed something like “85% of the American people support gun control!”

A landslide!

And so I pounced:  the poll leading to that question simply asked people if they supported “more gun control”, with no elaboration.  Yes or no.  No coloration, no flavor, no nuance.

And it was a question that everyone – from the gun-grabbing government-groupie to lil’ ol’ me who favored ratcheting up sentences for gun crimes and keeping them out of the hands of the insane – could say “yes” to, with different reasons and (this is important) with different consequences in mind.  
And when other pollsters added elaboration to the question – telling people what “gun control” actually meant – the numbers changed drastically.  The numbers favoring complete civilian gun bans dropped into (as I recall [1]) the twenties; handgun bans, the low thirties; background checks (in the days before NICS) scored much better; stiffer sentencing for gun crimes scored very, very well indeed.  
And this was right around the high-water mark for the gun control movement, when murder rates were rising toward their highest levels since the 1930’s.  Where do you suppose those numbers would fall out today, after two decades of expanding gun rights and (in an utterly unrelated story, yessirreebob) radically falling violent crime rates?
I’ll give credit to Loveland; he at least knows where I’m going with this, unlike most other leftybloggers:

For those who quibble about question wording, these polls all asked the question a bit differently.

Right.  A bit.

We’ll come back to this tomorrow morning and go through the fallacy of the “overwhelming support”.

We’ll call it “Back to the Future”.  Or that’s what 85% of the writers of my blog say right now.

[1] (I’ve been trying to find any reference to the polls from the eighties; happening as they did back when only Algore had the internet, I’m having not much luck.  If anyone has a pointer, I’d be much obliged)

2 thoughts on “The Emperor’s New Polls: “Your Client Is Obviously Guilty!”

  1. fuggeddaboutit. If the polls reflected reality we would have had universal background checks long ago. Liberals are crazy, on this topic and many others.
    I think that the logic goes:

    -Vast majorities want universal background checks.
    -We don’t have universal background checks.
    -The NRA opposes universal background checks.
    -Therefore the NRA has a svengali-like hold on politicians, and The NRA should be declared a terrorist organization and Wayne LaPierre should be killed.

    Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s a quote from a letter to the editor of my local rag:
    Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive director, says that we should have no laws regulating guns because criminals, terrorists and lunatics won’t obey those laws.

  2. I’m not fooled, that graph is recycled from last years voter ID amendment that passed by A LANDSLIDE.

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