Pennsylvania voters favor stricter background checks, poll finds

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Pennsylvania voters overwhelmingly support the extension of background checks for gun purchases at arms shows or online, similar to the measure that recently failed in the U.S. Senate, according to a new poll.

While Republicans and male voters are generally less favorable to gun control initiatives, majorities in even those groups strongly supported the expanded background checks.

Overall, 85 percent of those surveyed in a new poll from Quinnipiac University said they favored the background checks. The same was true for 78 percent of the Republicans surveyed, 93 percent of Democrats and 88 percent of independents.

Asked to describe their reactions to the U.S. Senate's rejection of the measure on April 17, from a list suggested by the interviewers, 70 percent said they were either "dissatisfied" or "angry" while 22 percent said they were "satisfied" and 5 percent said "enthusiastic."

Among Republicans, 10 percent said they were "enthusiastic" about the Senate action, 35 percent "satisfied," 37 percent "dissatisfied" and 15 percent "angry." Angry also was the response from 59 percent of the Democrats and 27 percent of independents.

After the vote, and the intense lobbying campaign that preceded it, 41 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion of the leadership of the National Rifle Association, 29 percent said they held a favorable view and the balance were uncertain. The unfavorable reaction to the NRA jumped from 35 percent in January to 41 percent when the survey was conducted between April 19 and 24.

The poll included phone interviews with 1,235 registered voters and had a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., was one of the authors of the compromise measure to close the so-called gun show loophole, and his role appeared to have given him at least a modest boost with the voters.

Overall, 54 percent said his role had given them a more favorable impression of the freshman senator, while 12 percent said it made them view him less favorably. Even among Republicans, a clear plurality -- 40 percent -- reacted favorably to Mr. Toomey's decision on the issue, while 19 percent said they were less favorably disposed to him. The balance said the issue made no difference to them.

The net effect was a boost in his overall job approval rating, moving him to the highest net positive result in any Quinnipiac survey to date.

Of the respondents, 48 percent said they approved of the way Mr. Toomey was handling his job, and 30 percent said they disapproved. In early March, before the debate on the Senate measure, his job approval stood at 35 percent.

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Politics Editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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