Over 40 Percent Of Americans Now Rate Gun Violence As A Top Issue

Over 40 Percent Of Americans Now Rate Gun Violence As A Top Issue

This article is part of our America’s Issues series.

There have already been 248 mass shootings this year,1 according to the Gun Violence Archive. At this point in 2021, there had been 258 mass shootings; in 2020, 173. Mass shootings are defined by the Gun Violence Archive as incidents in which at least four people — not including the shooter — are injured or killed, and they have been on the rise in recent years.

It is often a select few mass shootings, though, that capture national headlines and spark outrage. Public opinion often shifts in favor of stricter gun laws after high-profile mass shootings, like the one on May 14 that killed 10 people in a racist attack in Buffalo, New York, and the one on May 24 that killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. 

It should be no surprise, then, that the latest FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll, which was conducted from May 26 to June 6 and went into the field two days after the shooting in Uvalde, found that concerns regarding gun violence had surged. Using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, we interviewed the same 2,000 or so Americans from our previous survey, and of the 1,691 adults who responded, 42 percent named “crime or gun violence” as one of the most important issues facing the country, up 19 percentage points from the first wave of the poll released in early May.2 This was by far the largest increase for any one issue we asked about, putting it behind only “inflation or increasing costs” as Americans’ top concern for the country.

How concerned Americans were about crime and/or gun violence did vary quite a bit by party, though, as Democrats and independents drove much of the shift. A solid majority of Democrats, 58 percent, named the issue as a top concern, up from 33 percent in early May, while 41 percent of independents said the same, up from 19 percent.3 Republicans also became more worried about crime and/or gun violence, but the uptick was much smaller, going from 19 percent in May to 29 percent now.

We also found a sizable jump in the share of Black and Hispanic Americans who named crime and/or gun violence as one of the biggest issues for the country, which helps explain, in part, the higher degree of concern among Democrats, as Democrats are more racially and ethnically diverse than Republicans. The share of Hispanic Americans who cited the issue more than doubled, growing from 23 percent in May to 61 percent. To a lesser but still significant extent, the share of Black Americans who named gun violence or crime as a top issue also jumped, going from 35 percent in early May to 55 percent in our latest survey. White Americans were also more likely to be worried, but their overall level of concern was comparably lower: Thirty-five percent named the issue as a top worry, up from 19 percent a month ago.

Part of this dramatic shift can be explained by the sheer amount of media attention gun violence received in the days following the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. In fact, three-fourths of respondents reported having heard “a lot” about crime and/or gun violence in the news, more attention than any other issue we asked about received — even inflation (which around two-thirds said they had heard a lot about).4

But, of course, as we said at the outset, this is often what happens in the wake of a high-profile mass shooting. As a result of heightened media coverage, there is an uptick in concern about gun violence and/or a lot more support for stricter gun laws. However, the spotlight tends to fade over time and shift to other issues, so Americans become less engaged with the issue and support for stricter gun laws reverts to where it once stood. We didn’t ask about support for stricter gun laws in this poll, but we do know that more Americans are worried about gun violence. Even before this survey, it was one of Americans’ top three issues, so we plan to follow up soon with a deeper dive to better understand what’s driving Americans’ concerns around gun violence and/or crime.

Nothing changed quite as much as Americans’ concern around crime and/or gun violence in our poll, but there were a handful of other important changes regarding which issues Americans felt were most pressing for the country. Abortion, for instance, saw the second-largest change on net, likely thanks to increased media coverage of the issue in early May following a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion that suggests the court might be ready to overturn Roe v. Wade, which established the constitutional right to abortion in 1973. Nine percent of respondents in our survey named it as a top issue, up from just 4 percent a month ago. That said, abortion isn’t the issue that Americans in our poll are most worried about.

Rather, that distinction still belongs to inflation. Americans are most worried about inflation, with even more respondents (56 percent) naming it as a concern than in our last survey (52 percent). This was in large part driven by Republicans, as 75 percent cited inflation as a major concern, up from 65 percent a month ago. Independents were also somewhat more likely to name it as a concern, 56 percent now versus 50 percent in May. Roughly 40 percent of Democrats named inflation as a concern, but this barely changed from our previous survey.

Finally, political extremism and polarization remained a top issue overall, ranking third behind inflation and crime/gun violence after ranking second in our last survey. We dug more into this issue, too, and Americans' attitudes around political extremism and polarization in this survey, so we’ll examine those results more in-depth in an article early next week. But as we’ve outlined here, there’s no question that the big, topline finding in our second FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll is that more Americans are concerned about crime and/or gun violence — at least for now.

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