Gun ownership as an identity marker

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It will come as no surprise to those with a passing interest in American politics that Republicans are more likely to own guns than Democrats. But the differences have become much starker in recent years, with gun ownership having become a powerful predictor of political behavior.

In 1973, about 55 percent of Republicans reported having a gun in their household against 45 percent of Democrats, according to the General Social Survey, a biennial poll of American adults.

Gun ownership has declined over the past 40 years — but almost all the decrease has come from Democrats. By 2010, according to the General Social Survey, the gun ownership rate among adults that identified as Democratic had fallen to 22 percent. But it remained at about 50 percent among Republican adults.

Gun ownership rates are highest among the middle class, rather than the poor. Households making $50,000 to $100,000 per year were slightly more likely to own guns than those that made a little bit less or a little more. (However, gun ownership rates are inversely correlated with educational attainment.)

The partisan differences persist, however, across almost every demographic measure. White voters were substantially more likely to own guns than Hispanics, blacks or Asians. But white Republicans were more likely to own guns than white Democrats, Asian Republicans more likely than Asian Democrats, and so forth.

More elaborate data-mining techniques, such as logistic regression analysis, suggest that gun ownership is a more powerful predictor of whether a voter is Republican than her gender, whether or not she identifies as gay or lesbian, whether she is Hispanic, or whether she lives in the South, along with many other demographic characteristics.

And based on demographic inertia, the differences seem likely to grow over time. About 35 percent of Democratic voters aged 65 and older reported having a gun in their home, against about 25 percent of those aged 18 to 29. But gun ownership rates bore little relationship to age among Republican voters, and were constant at about 55 percent among all age groups. That might suggest that gun ownership will continue to decline among Democrats while holding steady among Republicans, further increasing the partisan gap.

Perhaps last weekend’s mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., will serve to partly reverse the partisan split in attitudes toward guns; early polls on Newtown find relatively modest differences between Democrats and Republicans on what they see as the causes of the shooting.

But after moments of healing, the partisan divide in attitudes toward guns has seemed only to accelerate after similar past events, as in Columbine, Colo. It might seem strange that ownership of a single household object is so strongly tied to voting behavior and broader political attitudes in America. But America is an outlier relative to other industrialized nations in its gun ownership rates. Whatever makes this country so different from the rest of the world must surely be reflected in the differences in how Democrats and Republicans see the nation.

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About arnulfo

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