Election 2014

New Elway Poll: Voters Support Gun Background Checks, Still Confused by Dueling Measures

A new poll shows voters support background checks, but are confused by two gun-related ballot measures with similar titles and descriptions.

By Erica C. Barnett July 15, 2014

A new Elway poll finds that 70 percent of Washington state voters support I-594, which would require more extensive background checks for gun sales, including sales online and at gun shows. Meanwhile, 46 percent support I-591, which would prohibit background checks on gun sales "unless a national standard is required," essentially enshrining the status quo in Washington state.

That represents a slight decline in support for I-594 since April, when 72 percent of voters said they supported it, and a larger slide for 591, from 55 percent.

However, you'll notice that the total number of voters who say they support 594 and those who say they support 591 adds up to well over 100 percent. That's because nearly one third of voters (32 percent) say they're inclined to vote for both measures, despite the fact that they would have opposite effects. 

What's going on? Elway notes that the two measures have "similar sounding ballot titles," which could be creating voter confusion. 

I-591, which "Concerns firearms," reads, "This measure would prohibit government agencies from confiscating guns or other firearms from citizens without due process, or from requiring background checks on firearm recipients unless a uniform national standard is required."

And I-594, which "Concerns background checks for firearms sales and transfers," reads, "This measure would apply currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with specific exceptions."

Overall, state voters are strongly supportive of background checks; asked the broader question, "Do you favor more extensive background checks for gun sales? Or do you favor keeping the background check system as it is?," 61 percent said they favored more extensive background checks, and 33 percent said they liked the system as it is—numbers that have scarcely budged since April, when the balance was 62-32.

Almost half of the respondents to the poll, which has a margin of error of +/-4.5 percent, included nearly half self-identified "independents" (48 percent), and appeared to skew somewhat older—59 percent of the respondents were over 50.

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