Fake News: Debunking the Media’s Favorite Constitutional-Carry Poll
A few weeks before the Florida legislature began debating an unlicensed concealed-carry bill, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law earlier this week, the legacy media started pimping a new public opinion poll that made some incredibly bold claims on the topic.
The poll, which was conducted by the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab, or PORL, alleged that a vast majority of Floridians rejected the very idea of unlicensed concealed carry. Only 22% of Floridians supported the legislation and 77% opposed the bill, PORL claimed.
“Not only is there bipartisan opposition to this ‘constitutional carry’ bill, but folks seem to feel passionately about it with the majority (67%) saying they strongly oppose the bill. Even among Republicans, most people are against carrying weapons without a permit,” Dr. Michael Binder, PORL faculty director and professor of political science, said in a March 9 press release announcing the poll.
As you can imagine, a feeding frenzy ensued. Armed with Binder’s poll numbers, the legacy media went absolutely nuts.
“As Floridians apparently know better than their elected officials, public health research overwhelmingly shows that relaxing firearm regulations contributes to increases in violent crime as well as firearm-related death and injury,” Caroline Light, who teaches gender and ethnic studies at Harvard University, wrote in a column titled “Expect more violent crime if Florida passes permitless gun carry,” which was published by the Tampa Bay Times.
“Permitless carry bill closer to law despite new poll showing that it’s vastly unpopular in Florida,” wrote the Florida Phoenix.
The media onslaught didn’t stop even after Gov. DeSantis signed the bill into law.
“Even as DeSantis pushed the proposal ahead of his expected bid for president, public polling on the issue has shown it to be widely unpopular with both political parties,” wrote NBC News. “Last month, a poll conducted by the University of North Florida showed 77% of the 1,492 respondents were somewhat or strongly opposed to the permitless carry legislation, a number that included 62% of Republicans.”
Who they asked
There are many ways to skew poll data, but the two most common methods are who you poll and how you phrase the question. In this case, it appears PORL misused both methods to create their crazy results.
Binder and his researchers divided Florida into 11 “designated media market areas,” or DMAs. There are 10 DMAs in the state, but they divided the large, urban Miami-Dade County DMA into two.
- Pensacola DMA
- Panama City DMA
- Tallahassee DMA
- Jacksonville DMA
- Gainesville DMA
- Orlando DMA
- Tampa DMA
- West Palm DMA
- Fort Myers DMA
- Broward & Monroe Counties
- Miami-Dade County
Then, based on the population size of the DMAs, the pollsters made their calls and sent their emails. Here is a listing of the DMAs and the percentage of respondents used from each group.
- Pensacola DMA 4%
- Panama City DMA 2%
- Tallahassee DMA 2%
- Jacksonville DMA 9%
- Gainesville DMA 2%
- Orlando DMA 21%
- Tampa DMA 24%
- West Palm DMA 10%
- Fort Myers DMA 7%
- Broward & Monroe Counties 9%
- Miami-Dade County 10%
If you’re unfamiliar with Florida’s demographics, only two of the DMAs – Pensacola and Panama City – are from the Panhandle, the deepest red, conservative epicenter of the state. The remaining nine DMAs are large, urban centers, which are far more liberal than the rest of the state. As a result, only 6% of the respondents came from traditionally conservative areas.
While the pollsters claim that of the 1,452 registered voters surveyed, 36% were Republicans, there’s a massive difference between Republicans from the Panhandle or elsewhere in the state, and Republicans from Miami-Dade.
Florida’s gun owners will neither forget nor forgive former Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican who singlehandedly killed open carry and campus carry bills in 2016 by refusing to hold hearings for the bills in the Judiciary Committee that he chaired. Today, de la Portilla’s 2016 actions are what gun owners have come to expect from downstate Republicans.
In an interview with the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project, Binder said PORL is nonpartisan, and he claimed no one paid for or commissioned the poll. PORL chose the topics on its own, and he defended his methodology, even though only 6% of the respondents were from conservative areas.
“Typically, each year during the legislative session we look through some of the bills and there’s conjecture on what might become an issue,” Binder said. “Our respondents are weighted to the registered voters. There’s a whole lot fewer people out there than in Sarasota, or wherever.”
What they asked
Here’s what Binder’s pollsters asked the respondents: “A bill has been introduced in the Florida House of Representatives that would allow Floridians to carry a concealed weapon without a license, as long as they meet certain criteria. The new law would not require safety training courses or certificates to carry a concealed weapon. Do you support or oppose the passage of this bill into law?”
There are more than a few issues with this question. The “certain criteria” law-abiding Floridians must meet to lawfully carry arms is lengthy and definitive. Also, Binder’s pollsters wrote “safety training courses,” which the requirements for a Florida Concealed Weapon or Firearm License call “firearm or safety course.”
Asked whether “safety training courses” was more sensational than “firearms training or safety course,”
Binder defended the wording.
“I don’t know how different that is,” he said. “Honestly, you know, this is the difficulty in writing questions about bills. It’s important to do. You can’t read the whole bill. It’s hard to manage piecing out what’s important and keeping it readable at a interpretable level. Often times they’re not written for the general public.”
Asked about his background, Binder said he is a registered Republican who owns no guns. “I do not. My family does,” he said.
Asked if he supports the Second Amendment, Binder said, “I support the constitution. You could ask that question a myriad of different ways and get different answers.”
Asked whether he actually believes that 77% of Floridians oppose unlicensed concealed carry, Binder said, “I think it’s possible, yeah. Will I bet my life on it? I wouldn’t bet my life on any public opinion poll. They’re more reflective than small groups or organizations that are lobbying on any topic. Many fewer people don’t own guns than own guns.”
It’s always problematic conducting polls about individual rights or personal freedoms. As a few of my colleagues pointed out, our gun rights are not subject to popular opinions, and popular rights do not need constitutional protections.
“The bottom line is this,” one said. “Had the residents of 1963 Alabama been polled regarding integration of Birmingham schools, the results would have shown overwhelming opposition. That’s why rights are independent of public opinion.”
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About Lee Williams
Lee Williams, who is also known as “The Gun Writer,” is the chief editor of the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project. Until recently, he was also an editor for a daily newspaper in Florida. Before becoming an editor, Lee was an investigative reporter at newspapers in three states and a U.S. Territory. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a police officer. Before becoming a cop, Lee served in the Army. He’s earned more than a dozen national journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. Lee is an avid tactical shooter.