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“Pro-Life” Identity Linked to Opposing Gun Control Among Evangelicals, Not Catholics

WASHINGTON — Americans are more likely to believe that improving mental health screening and support is the best way to prevent mass shootings, compared to enacting stricter gun laws, putting a greater emphasis on God and morality in school and society, having stricter security at public gatherings, or allowing more private citizens to carry guns, a new survey released today finds.

Three-in-ten (30 percent) Americans say that better mental health screening and support is the best way to prevent mass shootings from occurring in the United States, an eight-point increase from a survey conducted in August 2012 (22 percent). The first part of the January Religion and Politics Tracking Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute, finds increased support for improving mental health services among both Democrats (24 percent in August vs. 31 percent today) and Republicans (17 percent in August vs. 27 percent today).

Over the past six months, which have included shootings in a Connecticut elementary school, a Colorado movie theater and a Wisconsin Sikh temple, the new survey also finds that support for stricter gun laws has increased by eight percentage points, from 52 percent in August 2012 to 60 percent today.

“Few issues are as polarizing as gun control,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “Two-thirds of Republicans oppose stricter gun control laws, while 85 percent of Democrats support them. Yet, over the last few months, we are seeing greater agreement among Republicans and Democrats on the importance of better mental health screening and support as a way to reduce mass shootings.”

The new survey confirms earlier PRRI research demonstrating the complexity of how Americans identify with the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” and the influence these identities have on particular issues.

“‘Pro-life’ identities function differently among white evangelical Protestants and Catholics,” noted Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI. “When controlling for a number of other characteristics, evangelicals who strongly identify as ‘pro-life’ are approximately twice as likely as other evangelicals to oppose stricter gun control laws, while Catholics who strongly identify as ‘pro-life’ support stricter gun control laws at approximately the same rates as other Catholics.”

Among the roughly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants who say the term “pro-life” describes them very well, 64 percent oppose stricter gun control laws, compared to 33 percent who favor them. By contrast, among the 4-in-10 Catholics who say the term “pro-life” describes them very well, 61 percent support stricter gun control laws, compared to 33 percent who oppose them.

 

Among the findings:

When asked about the most important way to prevent future mass shootings from occurring in the United States, 3-in-10 (30 percent) cite better mental health screening and support, one-quarter (25 percent) point to stricter gun control laws and enforcement, and 1-in-5 (20 percent) say that we should place more emphasis on God and morality in school and society. Only about 1-in-10 Americans cite stricter security at public gatherings (11 percent) or allowing more private citizens to carry guns (9 percent) as the most important way to prevent future mass shootings.

  • White evangelical Protestants stand out as the only religious group in which a plurality (40 percent) say that putting more emphasis on God and morality in school and society is the most important thing that could be done to prevent future mass shootings.

General support for stricter gun laws has increased by eight percent from 52 percent in August 2012 to 60 percent today.

  • Much of this shift is due to increased support for gun laws from white mainline Protestants (57 percent today from 42 percent in August) and Democrats (85 percent today from 72 percent in August). Independent and Republican support for stricter gun laws remains essentially unchanged (54 percent and 30 percent, respectively).

There was no change in the National Rifle Association (NRA)’s favorability rating among the general public (56 percent in August vs. 57 percent today). However, there was an 8-point drop among those who said they had a very favorable opinion of the NRA (26 percent in August vs. 18 percent today).

  • Republicans, however, are supporting the NRA in higher numbers than they did in August 2012, with 85 percent now reporting a favorable opinion of the gun lobby organization, up from a 77 percent favorability rating in August.

Most major religious groups in the country favor stricter gun control laws, including majorities of minority Protestants such as black Americans (76 percent), Catholics (67 percent), religiously unaffiliated Americans (60 percent), and white mainline Protestants (57 percent). White evangelical Protestants stand out as the group least likely to support stricter gun control laws (38 percent favor, 59 percent oppose).

Support for stricter enforcement of existing gun control laws remains strong, but there was no significant increase between August (67 percent) and today (72 percent).

Few Americans support loosening current gun control laws, a view which has not changed significantly since August among Americans overall (26 percent in August vs. 23 percent today). There were, however, some significant shifts by religious affiliation and party.

  • Compared to August 2012, white evangelical Protestants are less likely to support loosening gun control laws (35 percent in August vs. 19 percent today).
  • Republicans are also less likely to favor loosening current gun control laws (36 percent in August vs. 21 percent today). Democrats’ and independents’ perspectives on this issue have not changed since August.

The January Religion and Politics Tracking Survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews conducted between January 16, 2013 and January 20, 2013 by professional interviewers under the direction of Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS). Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,033 adults 18 years of age or older in the continental United States (415 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone).The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.5 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.

The topline questionnaire can be found online here: http://publicreligion.org/research/january-2013-tracking-poll/

Public Religion Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values and public life.

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