Solutions for the Region,
Solutions for the World


Gun Violence: Polarization Among the American Public

In this episode, Research Associate at Pew Research Center Andrew Daniller talks with students from the UC Riverside School of Public Policy about public opinion regarding gun violence in America.

FEATURING Andrew Daniller
May 14, 2021



In this episode, Research Associate at Pew Research Center Andrew Daniller talks with students from the UC Riverside School of Public Policy about public opinion regarding gun violence in America.

About Andrew Daniller:

His research is primarily focused on the role of news media in shaping public opinion. Before arriving at the Annenberg School, he received a Master's degree in Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University. Former George Gerbner Post Doctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.

Learn more about Andrew Daniller via

Link to Pew Research Center report on views on gun policy:

Podcast Highlights:

“Only about 2 in 10 Republicans told us that gun violence was a very big problem compared to around three-quarters of Democrats...”

-       Andrew Daniller on the topic of if gun violence is a partisan issue.

“This urban, suburban, rural divide does matter in how people view gun policy and gun violence.”

-       Andrew Daniller on the topic of if there are any trends regarding gun policy public opinion.

“Republicans have become less supportive of assault-style weapons bans since 2017...”

-       Andrew Daniller on the topic of if gun policy has become more polarized over time.


Andrew Daniller (Pew Research Center Research Associate)


Maddie Bunting (UCR Public Policy Major, Dean’s Chief Ambassador)

Genevieve Chacon (UCR Public Policy Major, Dean’s Ambassador)

Music by:

C Codaine

Commercial Links:

This is a production of the UCR School of Public Policy:

Subscribe to this podcast so you don’t miss an episode. Learn more about the series and other episodes via


  • Gun Violence: Polarization Among the American Public (with Andrew Daniller)

    Introduction: Welcome to Policy Chats, the official podcast of the School of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside. I’m your host, Maddie Bunting. Join me and my classmates as we learn about potential policy solutions for today’s biggest societal challenges.


    Joining us today is Dr. Andrew Daniller. My fellow classmate, Genevieve, and I chatted with him about public opinion regarding gun violence in America. 


    Maddie Bunting: Dr. Danieller, you are a research associate focusing on politics at Pew Research Center. Thank you so much for joining us today. 


    Dr. Andrew Daniller: Of course, I'm very happy to be here. 


    Maddie Bunting: Well, on this episode of Policy Chats, I think it's really important to discuss something going on almost every day in America and most recently this weekend are quite a few cases of gun violence. And I understand that Pew Research Center has pretty recent data from the American public. So I'm curious, pulling from data gathered by Pew Research Center, is gun violence seen as a problem in the United States? And is it viewed as a partisan issue? 


    Dr. Andrew Daniller: Yeah, so this is a really good question for getting into the topic. And what we found in our most recent survey, which was conducted during the first week or so of April, between April 5th to April 11th of this year, about half of Americans told us that gun violence is a very big problem in the country today. And so to put that in context, we asked about 15 different problems in this particular survey or potential problems. And gun violence ranked as number five out of those 15. So for example, the top issue was the affordability of healthcare, which is something that we typically see at the top or near the top of these kinds of questions. Gun violence, I wouldn't say jumped out as, as necessarily the most important topic, but with about half of Americans saying that it's a very big problem, then clearly that's something that matters to people right now. And as far as the partisan aspect of it goes, yes, absolutely. This is a question where we see an especially large partisan divide in terms of who sees it as a problem and who doesn't. Among Democrats and people who lean towards the Democratic Party, gun violence was actually the number one issue when we asked this question in April. However, only about 2 in 10 republicans told us that gun violence was a very big problem compared with around three quarters of Democrats. And so for Republicans, this ranked as number 13 out of those 15 issues. So number one among Democrats, pretty close to the bottom among Republicans. And that's among the largest party gaps of any of the issues that we asked about this timeline. And one thing that I do think is worth kind of emphasizing early on as we get into some of the more details around this data is the timing of the survey. So as I said, this was conducted April 5th to April 11th. And of course, with gun violence being something that is in the news and then out of the news and then in the news again, obviously it's one of the issues where people's attention can fluctuate a little bit depending on what's going on in the world, what they've heard about recently. So to try to put it in a little bit more context beyond just giving you those dates. This was just after the shootings that occurred in Atlanta in March, as well as the shooting in Boulder, Colorado, I believe that was in a grocery store. So those were a couple of incidents that got a lot of attention in the media and among the public. But it did occur before the one at the FedEx facility in Indianapolis that was towards the middle of April after our survey had left the field. So just to try to put the timeline in a bit more context for folks who might be listening, that's where our survey actually fell at this particular time. 


    Genevieve Chacon: Context is very important, yeah. We're in the middle of a pandemic so of course people ranked health care and you would assume health care would be at the top. But it's like just showing that a lot of people still find that gun violence is still very important. 


    Dr. Andrew Daniller: Yeah. And it's interesting that you mentioned the pandemic. Of course, when we asked this question about a year ago, the pandemic was very close to the top. It's actually dropped a little bit as far as where people rank it. The biggest problems facing the country right now. But yes, that's a great example of how the context can really affect the answers to these types of questions. 


    Genevieve Chacon: Has data shown that American favor preventing people diagnosed with a mental illness from purchasing guns? 


    Dr. Andrew Daniller: Yeah, this is another really good question. We do find that one of the most popular policy proposals we ask about related to guns is on preventing people with mental illnesses from purchasing firearms. I do want to be careful there about how we talk about the relationship between mental illness and gun violence. As you said Gen, there's definitely a public perception that the two things are linked but our survey data really can't speak to whether there's actually a relationship there. What we can talk about and what our data is very good for is showing how people view the different policy proposals and the different policy options that are being talked about. And in this particular case, we find that a large majority of Americans, almost nine in 10, tell us that they would either favor or strongly favor preventing people with mental illness from purchasing guns. And as I said, that's the most popular of the policy options that we asked about in this particular survey. 70% of people told us that they strongly favored this particular option. And unusually in this context, both Democrats and Republicans were broadly in favor of limiting gun sales to people with mental illness. We had large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats, which isn't the case in a lot of the other items that we'll talk about.


    Genevieve Chacon: Do the survey results show that Americans oppose or support background checks when buying guns? Thinking it'll make it safer when we know the background of the person? 


    Dr. Andrew Daniller: Yeah, so expanded background checks are another proposal that was fairly popular in this particular survey. Currently, at least at the federal level, a background check is not required for people who purchase guns at private sales or at shows. So our specific survey item asked whether people would favor expanding background checks to those two types of sales for guns. And what we found was that about eight in 10 favored expanded background checks in that context, including about six in 10, would strongly favor that type of restriction or that type of additional check. And once again, this was one of the small number of questions that Republicans and Democrats generally agreed on. Democrats overwhelmingly favor expanded background checks. Republicans, it's somewhere around 70 percent of Republicans who said that they would favor this. So still abroad majority, but not quite as strong as among the Democrats. 


    Commercial: The UC Riverside School of Public Policy is excited to announce the launch in Fall 2022 of its new combined BA and Master of Public Policy program. As the only such program offered exclusively within a public policy school in the entire UC system, The UCR BA/MPP will allow public policy students to complete both their public policy major and graduate studies in five-years. Learn more at for more information. You can also find the link in our show notes. 


    Maddie Bunting: Throughout the years, various politicians have called for bans on both assault style weapons and high-capacity magazines. Do you happen to know where the American public stands on this policy proposal? 


    Dr. Andrew Daniller: What we see is that majorities support both types of bans. That would be bans on assault style weapons being sold, as well as bans on high-capacity magazines, which we defined, I believe as magazines that could fire ten or more rounds at a time. Obviously, there are a lot of different definitions you can use there. But that was the definition to be offered in this survey. So we do find that majorities support both of those proposals. But as I said, with big partisan differences, Democrats are again and strongly in favor of both of these options. Whereas Republicans in this case, we found that less than a majority of Republicans supported each of these ideas individually. So it's a case where maybe the parties are a bit farther apart, even if overall in the public we see something like 60 to 65 percent of people telling us that they support each of these proposals individually. 


    Genevieve Chacon: An important issue raised in your article is the debate on whether an increase in Americans owning guns would result in more or less crime. Can you speak on what the data shows Americans think about the issue in terms of race, political party, and even geographic location?


    Dr. Andrew Daniller: Absolutely. So we asked two related but slightly different questions here. First, we asked whether people believe that if more Americans owned guns, there would be more or less crime. And then we also asked a second related question, which was about whether if guns were harder to obtain legally, there would be more or fewer mass shootings. So first you asked about crime, so let's focus on that here. But I do want to point out that we have these two related questions and I'm sure we'll get to the second one in a minute. So in terms of whether more Americans owning guns would lead to more or less crime, what we find is, again, a pretty large divide among people, based on party but we also see some important demographic differences. In terms of race and ethnicity, we find that a majority of black adults tell us that if more Americans own guns, there would also be more crime. Hispanic adults are about evenly divided, just about half of the Hispanic adults say this. But among white adults, just a quarter say that if more people owned guns, there would be more crime. So we see that's one of the larger differences by race and ethnicity that we saw in this particular space, where especially black adults and white adults are pretty far apart. Hispanics are in the middle of those two groups, but they are closer to where the black adults are than to where the white adults are. We also see, as you hinted at in your question, we also see, not what I would call geographic divides necessarily, but divides by the type of community that people live in. So among people who tell us that they live in an urban setting, 50 percent and half of people in that type of setting tell us that if more Americans own guns, there would also be more crime. Among people who live in rural communities, only 23 percent say this. So that's a pretty large gap between those who live in cities versus those who live in more rural locations. And that's something we see in the context of a few of the questions we asked about guns is that not only are their partisan divides or divides along other demographic lines, but this urban-suburban-rural divide does matter in how people view, view Gun Policy and gun violence. 


    Maddie Bunting: I'm just curious. I know this focuses on gun policy but I do think it's very interesting to see a difference between urban and rural. Has the Peer Research Center found this difference in graphic location and many surveys? 


    Dr. Andrew Daniller: Yeah, it certainly depends on what type of issue we're talking about. But just to take an example off the top of my head, something that we've looked out for the last year is the way that geography and community type impact different views related to the pandemic. And certainly especially early on in the pandemic when the big outbreak was centered in New York City, we were definitely seeing differences in opinion about the responses to the pandemic, about how government is handling the pandemic, about all sorts of things related to the pandemic that were divided along those lines of urban, suburban, rural communities on. So it is something that fortunately, the way we've approached surveys in the last several years, especially using our American trends panel, where we have a lot of background data about the individuals who take each of our surveys we’re able to look at these types of geographic questions and these types of community questions and it does give us some additional insight that we weren't always able to get from traditional random sample phone, phone surveys. And I should just clarify that, that our panel is also based on a random sample, but it's a random sample where we're able to interview the same individuals repeatedly over a period of months and years. And so that gives us some additional data about who they are, where they live, all those sorts of things. 


    Commercial: Social injustice, health disparities, climate change. Are you interested in solving pressing challenges like these currently facing our region in the world? Then consider joining the next cohort of future policy leaders like me, by applying for the UCR Master of Public Policy program. Learn more at You can also find the link in our show notes.


    Maddie Bunting: I would like to talk about that second part of the question that you had mentioned that when covering crime and unfortunately that is mass shootings, something that America has witnessed for too many times and quite a few happened this past weekend. There is an argument that claims that making it harder to legally obtain guns would result in fewer mass shootings. Again, similar to what you were saying on that question about reducing crime. What do Americans seem to believe in this connection but with mass shootings? 


    Dr. Andrew Daniller: Yeah, So as I said, we asked folks if it were harder to legally obtain guns, if that would reduce the number of mass shootings. And we saw a similar sort of divide based on the types of communities people live in that I just mentioned for the violent crime question. However, something we also saw in this particular case talking about mass shootings is that there's a pretty large divide based around age. So the youngest set of adults in our survey, those who are 18 to 29, that group of adults, some majority of them about 60 percent, tell us that there would be fewer mass shootings if it were harder to legally obtain guns. Among the oldest group of adults that we look at those who are 65 and older, 40 percent that say the same thing. So the question is really dependent on- I'm not going to speculate about what the reasons for that are, but this is definitely one aspect of the gun debate, where we do see some differences by age that don't always appear in some of the other questions that we've asked. 


    Genevieve Chacon: Yeah. And of course we don't want to speculate, but I feel like young people have been exposed to these mass shootings in a capacity that I feel like no generation has ever seen. I feel like it makes sense that the young people would say, maybe if we had less guns, there would be less shootings. But of course, we just have the data to look at. 


    Dr. Andrew Daniller: Right, unfortunately, our data doesn't let us ask why this particular finding is the case. So we can't really speak to that. But certainly the hypothesis you're suggesting there is one that would be worth looking at in additional research and seeing exactly how younger folks differ from older adults when it comes to these types of questions. 


    Genevieve Chacon: Does data show any trends beyond political standing in regards to who support or oppose stricter gun laws in America?


    Dr. Andrew Daniller:  So as with a lot of public policy questions and political questions right now, some of the biggest divisions that we see are along partisan lines and, you know, as students, I'm sure you're familiar with this kind of ongoing debate about whether Americans have really become more polarized or not over the last couple of decades. A lot of our data at Pew Research Center suggests that they have, and this is one of those, one of those topic areas where that is to be the case. Democrats and Republicans are far apart and how they view gun crime and done. But with that said, we've already touched on some of the areas where there are divisions. Of course, we talked about the type of community that people lived in a few minutes ago. We also see divisions among men versus women where in this survey, for example, women tended to be slightly more supportive of restrictions on gun purchases than men work. We see some divisions based on race and ethnic lines where black adults and white adults, hispanic adults and the Asian adults present slightly different opinions on average. And we also see some division, along age and educational lines. So again, speaking very generally, people with more formal education tend to be a bit more supportive of stricter gun laws than people with fewer years of formal education. 


    Maddie Bunting: So interesting. I'm also wondering, in terms of trends, I'm not sure how far back data on this specific topic goes, but say following Columbine or the Sandy Hook mass shooting or the Parkland shooting. And I know this is taken just following the Atlanta mass shooting. Do you see spikes following or do these very large mass shootings that gather a lot of press and maybe stay in the news longer than other cases of gun violence? 


    Dr. Andrew Daniller: So, unfortunately, that question requires a bit more data than I sort of have at the top of mind to discuss in detail with you right now. It's a really good question though, and it's one where I'm sure there's a strong scientific literature that can speak to that. What I can say is that in terms of the Pew Research Center's trends, we do have data on these types of questions that go back several years. But gun policy and gun violence is one of the areas where we sometimes see mode differences. Which is just to say that as we've switched from looking almost exclusive at telephone surveys earlier on up until maybe five years ago versus today where we're primarily focused on data that comes from our online panel of American adults. We sometimes see differences in the way people will respond that can be attributed to the different ways that these questions are asked on the phone from a live interviewer versus taking the survey online. And so that can complicate some of our long-term trends over these questions. In the short-term and in the report that we're talking about today we are able to go back to 2017, 2016 on some of these questions and look at the ways that Americans' opinions about gun policy have changed just over the last few years. But as we start to go back farther than that, and this is an issue in the much broader world of survey research where responses to phone surveys have declined over time. And we can have a whole long conversation about all of those issues. But the trends do get a little bit complicated. So it's hard for me to draw a direct line from say, Columbine, which is an example that you mentioned versus a more recent shooting like say, what happened at Sandy Hook a few years ago or even something that happened this year like the shooting in Indianapolis that I mentioned or the one in Boulder, Colorado. So it's a complicated question, but it's also a really important one. And I don't want to give any oversimplified answer in trying to address it. 


    Maddie Bunting: Of course, of course, I think that one question could probably take up an entire episode.


    Dr. Andrew Daniller:  I think that's probably true, yes. 


    Maddie Bunting: So maybe we'll have to circle back to that one day here soon. But as we wrap up, this has been such a great conversation, but it has shown there is great partisan division over gun policy for the most part. So I'm just curious if data has shown that this divide has grown stronger or weaker over the years. And if data provides any area in which the American public can compromise or come together to combat this issue in the near future?

    Dr. Andrew Daniller:  Sure. And so this is an area where we do have really good data just from the last several years where we can say that when some of these questions, yes, the partisan divide has grown. For example, on the question of whether there should be a ban on the sale of assault style weapons. What we find is that Republicans have become a bit less supportive of that type of ban since 2017 or so on, just over the last few years. On the other hand, the question that we talked about much earlier in, in this discussion, whether there should be more done to prevent people who have mental illnesses from buying weapons? On that question, the share of both parties who say that they would support that type of policy has held pretty steady over the exact same period of time. There really hasn't been much change among either Democrats or Republicans. So yes, there are issues and there are specific policy proposals where the parties continue to grow apart. But there are some where really public opinion hasn't changed all that much, at least in the last few years. So it's again, a case where there's not one clear, definitive answer that I can give you, but looking at some of the specific policies, we do see relatively high levels of agreement among both Democrats and Republicans. 


    Maddie Bunting: Dr. Danieller and this has been a wonderful conversation and I think it's something that affects many American and I'm sure many of our listeners. So I hope this data helps me formulate their own opinion and just help know maybe why there's great controversy and there are numbers to backup why each side stands their ground on these issues. So I just wanted to thank you so much for joining us today. This has been really wonderful speaking with you. 


    Dr. Andrew Daniller: Sure, as I said, I was happy to be here and I hope this was informative for those listening. 

    Outro: This podcast is a production of the UC Riverside School of Public Policy. Our theme music was produced by C Codaine. I'm Maddie Bunting, till next time


Let us help you with your search