Harvard IOP youth poll finds stricter gun laws, ban on assault weapons favored by two-thirds of likely midterm voters under age 30


Ahead of National School Walkout Day, anniversary of Columbine massacre, Harvard IOP youth poll finds stricter gun laws, ban on assault weapons favored by two-thirds of likely midterm voters under age 30

NRA image falters since Parkland, nearly half support amending Second Amendment

CAMBRIDGE, MA A new national poll of America’s 18- to 29-year-olds by Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP), located at the Kennedy School of Government, finds 70 percent of young Americans likely to vote in the upcoming midterms believe that gun control laws in the United States should be more strict.  Overall, 64 percent of 18-to 29-year-olds hold this view. 

This finding represents a 15-point increase from polling conducted by the IOP in 2013, months after the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting when 49 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds supported stricter laws.  One-in-ten (10%) 18-to 29-year-olds believe gun laws should be less strict today, while 22 percent think they should be kept the same as they are now. 

Five years ago, 15 percent preferred that guns laws were less strict, while 36 percent favored keeping things the same.  Increased levels of support for more stringent gun laws can be found among young Americans regardless of political affiliation: support increased 16 percentage points among Democrats (69% to 85%), 17 points among Republicans (20% to 37%) and 11 points among Independents (49% to 60%).

During the same time frame, Harvard IOP polling also found a 17-point increase in the number of young Americans who support a ban on assault weapons.  In 2013, 41 percent of 18- to 29-year-old members of the Millennial generation supported an assault weapon ban, 32 percent opposed it, and 26 percent were unsure.  Today, we find that nearly three-in-five (58%) support a ban, while opposition stands at 27 percent, and those who do not have an opinion reduced to 13 percent.  Young Americans who are likely midterm voters are significantly more supportive of a ban (67%) than their peers who are less likely to vote (52%).  Seventy-six percent (76%) of Democrats support a ban today (+19 since 2013), 43 percent of Republicans (+20 since 2013) and 48 percent of Independents (+10 since 2013).

The Harvard IOP poll also found that favorability of the NRA has suffered since the Parkland, Florida shooting.  In the IOP's Fall report which was released weeks after the Las Vegas shooting, NRA favorability stood at 34 percent favorable, 40 percent unfavorable.  Today, 31 percent of young Americans have a favorable opinion, while 53 percent have an unfavorable view.  The number of those who have never heard of the NRA is reduced from 23 percent in the Fall to 16 percent today.  NRA favorability was the only gun-related question tracked from Fall 2017 that showed significant, double-digit change.

Additional findings from the Harvard Public Opinion Project on gun control-related issues are:

  • 77% of likely young American voters say that gun control will be an important issue in determining their vote in 2018;
  • 47% of all 18- to 29-year-olds support amending the Second Amendment;
  • 47% believe that the student-led protests and organizing related to the Parkland School Shooting will have a lasting impact on gun laws in the U.S.

"This issue is especially important to me because my grandmother was actually a survivor of the IBM shooting in the 1980's," said Myer Johnson-Potter, a sophomore from San Francisco, CA and a member of the Harvard Public Opinion Project who helped write questions on gun control. "I grew up hearing stories about how these shootings destroy people's lives and I was saddened by the fact that the country only cares about gun control for the week after a shooting. I wanted to see if this was a moment where gun control advocates could capitalize and make meaningful change."

"For several years, the opinions of young Democrats, Republicans and Independents have been steadily shifting toward greater support for gun control measures. We now find a strong majority of 18-to-29 year-olds -- and two-thirds of likely voters  -- supporting stricter gun laws and a ban on assault weapons," said IOP Polling Director John Della Volpe.  "The difference today is that the Parkland students have created an environment where the lack of progress on reducing gun violence is now symbolic of all the ills plaguing Washington, D.C.  The intensity among gun control advocates is palpable, and this is now a lethal issue for incumbents standing for re-election in the fall."

This poll of N=2,631 18- to 29- year-olds, which was organized with undergraduate students from the Harvard Public Opinion Project, was conducted using GfK’s probability-based online sampling methodology between March 8 and March 25, 2018. The margin of error for the poll is +/- 2.54 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.