Double Barreled: Opinions and Attitudes Towards Crime and Gun Ownership
The two most important things to do for self-defense are not to take a martial arts class or get a gun, but to think like the opposition and know where you're most at risk.
If you read my previous blog post you will notice that I chose to focus on immigration, a policy that had become increasingly more prevalent as an election issue today than in the past, as my first entry.
For this article I chose to focus on something that isn’t usually seen as a ballot box issue but has been discussed in almost every election going back as far as the Roman Republic: crime. While writing this article, it came to my attention that Liberal government will be announcing a plan to restrict assault weapons and handguns.
As an elections issue, gun violence was never really discussed as much as healthcare, the economy or even defence and terrorism. I find it difficult to recall an election where crime or gun safety served as serious wedge issue for Canadian voters. There have been some questions asked in past Canadian Election Studies around views and attitudes towards the long-gun registry but as of today I am of the belief that it wasn’t really an issue that caused a voter to walk into a polling booth and say “this is why I’m voting for X candidate”.
That having been said, there has been an increased level of discussion around gun violence in the past ten years or so – certainly as a cultural and societal issue more so than an electoral issue.
(Before you say anything: yes, I realize Google Trends is not exactly the best measurement of public opinion but I do believe it to be a moderately worthwhile metric to help give shape to the analysis.)
The trends graph above shows that while there has been some interest in crime and guns over time, the largest amount of search volumes revolve around shootings. Big exogenous events help spark public debate, then those issues will become more subdued, only to increase again whenever another event occurs.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
So let’s start from the top: views towards crime and justice.
The Canadian Election study has been asking questions about crime for some time, but the questions they used changed over time. I thought the question below would serve as an interesting and recent metric to gauge to what extent people are paying attention to the subject matter.
We see that overall there is a decrease in the amount of people saying they pay a lot of attention to crime and justice while there is an increase in the number of people saying that they pay little attention. Still, it’s important to note that half of the electorate pays a great deal of attention to the topic of crime and parties that don’t incorporate policies that deal with the issue are missing out.
From the above we see that crime as an elections issue ranks higher than immigration but lacks the intensity that healthcare or even the environment did. This supports the above finding that it’s worthwhile for parties to focus on the subject matter but they wouldn’t want to make crime the flagship policy due to the fact that attentions are largely fixated elsewhere.
One way to measure how people feel about public policy issues is to ask them whether the government should spend more or less on the issue. From the above we see that even with over half the population having a high level of interest in the topic of crime, people are more willing to see reduced government spending on crime and justice.
Conservatives should take note of this: crime has always been a big component to how people view the Conservative Party and the party can more often than not count on the support of people who view crime and justice with greater levels of intensity than most. However, if the party wishes to expand their reach on the issue of crime and justice, pledging more money on the issue may not be a panacea for success.
One question that the CES asked that I thought was interesting was whether “ONLY the police and the military should be allowed to have guns”. This question was asked going back to 1997.
We see that for the most part a strong plurality of Canadians hold rather intense views in the belief that only police and the military should own guns. Interestingly enough, the intensity of support for this statement increased during the 2008 election but went back down in 2011 onward.
It’s also interesting to see that the division that exists in this statement is rather intense. Those with stronger levels of (dis)agreement tend to outnumber those with softer views on the topic. Over time we see that the strength in opposition to the statement has decreased slightly over the years.
Sure, Canadians are more likely than not to support the police and military being the only ones to own guns, but the dividing lines between Canadians is rather staunch and those who feel the way they do tend to be firm in their convictions.
The reader will be able to see which demographics are more likely to support or oppose the statement, but for the sake of simplicity I took a look at the top seven demographics that help drive this division.
We see that Quebec residents are among the most likely to be against every day citizens owning guns. Trudeau’s recent announcement on fighting assault weapons and handguns will bode very well in Quebec – an area the Liberals need to do well in if they wish to remain in power. Alternatively, we see that Alberta would be most hostile to the announcement, however, Alberta is a region of the country that the Liberals are likely to experience losses in and have likely assumed that gains could be made elsewhere. Fish where the fish are, right?
We also see from the above that views towards gun ownership cuts along age and gender lines. Those who are younger are more likely to oppose the statement that only police and military should have guns while those who are older are significantly more likely to agree. Women are also significantly more likely to agree than men. This is also good news to the Liberals as they will need the support of women to help form a winning coalition.
Generally speaking the Conservatives do rather well with men so if the party was desperate they might be able to use the issue to help motivate rural male voters to come out to the polls but as of today it is believed that that level of desperation may not present itself.
When we take a look at different demographics overall we see that the Conservatives are rather divided on the subject matter and should tread cautiously around the topic of gun ownership on the grounds that it may split the base.
We also see that the Green Party and NDP would do well from piggybacking on Justin Trudeau’s recent pledge to fight assault weapons and handguns as their respective supporters overwhelmingly believe that only the police and the military should own guns.
The announcement on gun policy bodes well for the Liberal base as they also are quite supportive of reduced gun ownership and pledging the issue can help solidify softer Liberal supporters into harder supporters.
It’s hard to tell where the debate on guns or gun violence may go. But from the data above we see that it’s generally wiser to advocate against individual gun ownership than for it. Having said that, a good politician knows their constituency and if you were running in rural Alberta it would make perfect sense to campaign against the idea that only the military or the police should own guns.