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Why policy decisions may not reflect perceived public opinion

Public opinion on stricter gun laws has spiked, but policy decisions may not always align with these perceptions. Factors like mistrust in poll data, temporary trends, regional differences, political calculus, and nuanced understanding of the issue can influence lawmakers' decisions, making it an uphill battle for stricter gun laws.

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Video transcript

- [Narrator] What we're gonna do in this video is describe how our perceptions of public opinion may, or may not, affect policy decisions. So what I have here is an excerpt from an article on Politico that was published at the end of February. Shortly after the shootings in Florida. And it says, support for stricter gun laws has spiked in polls conducted after the fatal South Florida school shooting, hitting its highest level in at least a quarter-century. Roughly two in three Americans now say gun control laws should be made more strict in the wake of the murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. According to a number of polls, including a new Politico, Morning Consult, poll that shows support for stricter gun laws among registered voters at 68%, compared with just 25% who oppose stricter gun laws. So if there was just a direct connection between what we're seeing in the polls and policy, well then you might expect stricter gun laws. And you can imagine, there are many policy makers who are already in support of the stricter gun laws, who would use this data to further their argument why State Congress should pass more legislation to make stricter gun laws. But an interesting question is why this still might be an uphill battle in terms of making stricter gun laws. Well, you could imagine there are other policy makers, members of Congress, who one, they may or may not trust the poll data here. Maybe they don't view it as a truly representative sample. Others might say, "Hey, this is a temporary trend "that's driven by the graphic nature "of the news surrounding these polls." Others might say, "Hey look, this might be the national numbers, "I believe this poll." And it might not even be a temporary trend, but they say, "This is representative of the entire country. "The polling numbers in my district might be different." Now another reason why a policy maker, despite this type of national poll, may not want to vote in favor of stricter gun laws, is that their political calculus might not favor it. For example, even if they're constituents support stricter gun laws, most of their constituents might not be so activated about that. They might care more about things like the economy. And they might have a smaller subset, say the 25% who oppose stricter gun laws, who are willing to vote on that issue. And it might do more harm to your political chances to upset that group on this issue, then to try to appeal to the majority on the issue. And the last reason why a policy maker may not be in support of it, even though public opinion seems to be, is that they view the issue as being more subtle and more nuance then maybe they think that the broader public might appreciate. That yes, when you see something horrific like this you want to regulate it more, you want to pass laws, but there could be policy makers who believe that those laws won't be affective, or they might not have the intended consequences. But it's an interesting question, when public opinion affects policy decisions, and when it doesn't.