Tue, July 23

Polls show mixed message on Senator Flake's vote on background checks on guns

PHOENIX -- The political damage to the state's junior senator because of his vote against background checks on weapons sold at gun shows depends on who you ask -- and when.

A statewide telephone poll of 700 adult heads of household conducted earlier this month by Behavior Research Center, released Monday, found just 42 percent of those surveyed said they would support new restrictions on firearms sales. But the question, which does not spell out what kind of new restrictions are contemplated, also found 38 percent said they like the laws just the way they are now, with 16 percent saying there should be even fewer restrictions.

But a separate automated telephone poll of 600 Arizona voters last week by Public Policy Partners -- after the U.S. Senate rejected background checks -- found 70 percent want such reviews prior to a weapon being sold at a gun show or on the Internet.

Potentially more significant for Sen. Jeff Flake is the finding that 52 percent of those asked said his vote against those checks makes it less likely they would support him for reelection. But that is hardly a groundswell: 24 percent said his action made no difference and another 19 percent said they now like him even more.

Flake's office did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

All this comes as one of those surveys suggests that if you don't personally own a gun, then the odds are one of your next door neighbors does.

The Behavior Research Center poll found that 37 percent of those responding admitted to owning at least one functioning firearm. The numbers were somewhat higher in Maricopa and the state's 13 rural counties than in Pima.

And Tucsonan Todd Rathner, a member of the board of the National Rifle Association, said he thinks the number is really higher than that.

"A lot of people are very concerned about revealing that to anyone,' he said. "I don't think you're going to get a terribly accurate answer.'

Rathner conceded that he has no more accurate information, saying his own estimates are probably no more than guesses based on what he has heard in the community.

At one time, Rathner would have put the number close to the 80 percent range. But he said that, now, conservatively speaking, he figures gun ownership at "well over 50 percent.'

Jim Haynes, president of Behavior Research Center, acknowledged that this is a sensitive question. But he said the caller ID at homes which have that feature clearly show the query is coming from his company, versus just some random person.

"It always amazes me what people are willing to tell you, especially in the days of caller ID,' he said.

Haynes also had a take on the gun-buying frenzies that often follow mass shootings and the predictable calls for new regulations.

"I'm not personally as sure that it's your next-door neighbor that's never owned a gun running out and buying one for the first time, or whether it's a guy that's got three of them and wants three more before they start refusing to sell them,' he said.

Haynes did not ask specifically about Flake's vote, as his survey was conducted before the Senate action. But he said it does show Arizonans retain their love of guns.

When questioned about a ban on semi-automatic military style weapons, just 38 percent say that makes sense, against 49 percent who remain opposed.

And if there is any question about the sentiment of Arizonans, that was settled with a final question where Behavior Research Center asked Arizonans how they feel about the National Rifle Association, the organization that has taken a goal-line stance against any changes in laws regulating weapons possession or sale. Only 20 percent of those asked had a negative impression of the NRA, against 52 percent favorable.

The survey, however, was conducted earlier this month, before the Senate floor vote killing the plan. But Haynes said the numbers all speak for themselves.

"It tells me that Arizona is still fundamentally a Second Amendment state,' he said. "If I'm the NRA, I'm thinking that's pretty impressive.'

Even the Public Policy Polling survey shows that Flake's vote is not leaving him vulnerable among his own Republican Party.

Only 35 percent of Republicans said his vote against background checks make him a less desirable candidate when he's up again, a number virtually identical to those who say they're now more supportive of him. And with the 26 percent who say the vote is immaterial to their choice, that makes the vote pretty much a non-issue -- assuming anyone remembers how Flake voted when he has to stand for reelection in 2018.

The margin of error for the Behavior Research Center poll is 3.8 percent. It is 4.0 percent for the PPP survey.