Support for Gun Checks Stays High; Two-Thirds Back a Path for Immigrants

Support for a process providing legal status to undocumented immigrants reached a new high in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, while vast public backing for expanded background checks on gun sales held strong - two prominent issues coming to the fore in Congress.

With a vote on gun control measures pending, 86 percent support extending background checks to gun sales at gun shows and online. Much smaller majorities support banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, 56 percent in each case, with the latter down from its peak, 65 percent in January, a month after the elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

See PDF with full results and charts here.

A broad 72 percent back another proposal, prohibiting lawsuits against legal gun sellers if the weapon later is used in a crime.

More generally, the public by 55-38 percent rejects the concept that any new gun control laws by definition limit gun rights, and by 52-40 percent says a higher priority now should be enacting new laws to try to reduce gun violence, rather than protecting the right to own guns.

Still, another result reflects a gain across the past decade in positive attitudes toward guns: By 51-29 percent, Americans in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, think having a gun in the home makes it a safer place to be, not more dangerous. (Sixteen percent say it depends.) When Gallup first asked this question in September 2000, the reverse held: Fifty-one percent said guns made homes more dangerous, 35 percent safer.

At the same time, in an eye-opening result, 30 percent say they, a close friend or a family member have been a victim of a crime involving a gun. That, however, does not appear to strongly impact other gun-related attitudes, while views on whether guns make a home safer do.

IMMIGRATION - On immigration, Americans by nearly 2-1, 63-33 percent, support a program giving undocumented immigrants a path to legal status. That reflects a sharp change in the past five years, from essentially an even split on the issue, 49-46 percent, in late 2007. (Another question, posing a "path to citizenship," found 57 percent support late last month.)

The results reflect continued challenges for Republican leaders seeking compromise on the issue. Current support for a process to achieve legal status falls to 47 percent among Republicans, vs. 64 percent of independents and 75 percent of Democrats. And it's gained an insignificant 5 percentage points among Republicans since 2007, compared with advances of 19 and 16 points among independents and Democrats, respectively.

Other elements of immigration reform also hold majority support - 60 percent for more visas for highly skilled workers and 56 percent for a low-skilled guest worker program. On the enforcement side, 67 percent are for more federal spending on border control and a vast 83 percent favor requiring that all businesses check potential employees' immigration status.

Two other possible elements of an immigration law are less popular. Fifty-three percent oppose cutting back on visas for family members of legal immigrants. And among supporters of a path to legal status, 69 percent say its taking 13 years, as has been suggested, would be too long.

Further on the subject, among those who support a legal-status program, there's a division on whether it should take effect only after border control has been improved - favored by 50 percent - vs. its taking effect without being linked to border control, preferred by 44 percent.

Support for several measures - a path to legal status and more visas for low- and high-skilled workers - peaks among Hispanics, generally by about 20-point margins vs. whites. At the same time, Hispanics are less supportive of enforcement measures - 54 percent back more border control spending and 64 percent favor expanded employer verification, vs. 72 and 88 percent, respectively, of whites.

POLITICS - Potential compromise in Washington on guns and immigration hasn't warmed the public to the president or either political party. Barack Obama has just a 50 percent job approval rating, unchanged from last month and down from his brief post-election advance.

Only the barest majority, 51 percent, says Obama is in touch with the concerns of most Americans. That perception drops for the Democratic Party, to 43 percent, and plummets, to 23 percent, for the beleaguered Republican Party. Seventy percent of Americans see the GOP as "out of touch," including, remarkably, 49 percent of Republicans themselves. Just 21 percent of Democrats, by contrast, see their party as out of touch with most people's concerns.

The still-struggling economy overall, and growing discomfort from the federal budget sequester, remain key elements of the public's mood. A third of Americans now say they personally have been hurt by the sequester, up 8 points from last month; and more, 42 percent, have close friends or relatives who've been impacted negatively. Fifty-seven percent disapprove of these across-the-board cuts having taken effect, and more, 63 percent, say they're hurting the economy, with no significant difference by political partisanship.

Progress on the jobs front, while apparent, has been insufficient to lift economic gloom. Two-thirds of Americans say jobs in their area are difficult to find - down from the peak, 84 percent, in 2009, and the fewest since late 2008, but still up sharply from 48 percent in late 2007, shortly before the economy tanked.

Just 15 percent now say the jobs situation is getting worse, down from 37 percent two years ago. But after the deep downturn, "less worse" clearly is not enough to break the public's long-running economic - and by extension political - discontent.

APPROVALS - Indeed, more Americans disapprove than approve of Obama's handling of the economy, 53-44 percent, similar to its August and September levels when the presidential election still was up for grabs. More "strongly" disapprove than strongly approve, by nearly 2-1.

The public divides roughly evenly, moreover, in assessing Obama's handling of two other main issues of the moment, gun control (45-49 percent, approve-disapprove) and immigration reform (44-43 percent). Despite his backing popular elements of both packages, neither has boosted him.

Nor does Obama look to have done himself favors with his budget proposal last week. Americans by 51-37 percent oppose perhaps its most controversial element, cutting the rate of cost-of-living increases in Social Security payments. (There are no partisan differences, but among seniors, opposition jumps to 64 percent.) More also disapprove than approve of his budget plan overall, 38-30 percent, though with many - 32 percent - not knowing enough to say.

MORE ON GUNS - Other results may help flesh out the state of gun ownership in this country. Forty-three percent of Americans say someone in their house owns a gun, essentially unchanged in more than a dozen ABC/Post surveys since 1999. Personal ownership, though, is lower: Thirty percent say they themselves own a gun.

The type of gun is another factor. Among the 43 percent who say someone in their house owns a gun, some include BB guns, starter's pistols and guns that don't fire, such as antique or ornamental guns. Asked to exclude those, 37 percent overall say there's a gun in their house.

Separately, as noted, 30 percent of Americans say they, a close friend or a family member have been a victim of a crime involving a gun, with a division by race - 26 percent among whites, 38 percent among nonwhites. (The overall result compares with 20 percent in a question that was similar, but limited to the past three years, in a Kaiser Family Foundation survey in February.)

In terms of political action, 14 percent of American say they've contacted a public official to express their views on gun control, and 10 percent have given money to an organization involved in the issue - small percentages, but vast numbers, representing about 33 and 24 million adults, respectively. While still low on a percentage basis, activism is somewhat higher on the part of critics of gun control, e.g. those who say such laws always interfere with the right to own guns, and opponents of an assault weapons ban - as well as among gun owners overall.

On possible election impacts, 60 percent of Americans say they could still vote for a candidate who disagrees with them on the issue of gun control; 29 percent could not. As with other activism, critics of gun control are more likely to vote on the basis of this issue.

Overall, it appears that two of the key factors in attitudes on guns are gun ownership and the sense of whether guns increase or decrease home safety. Notably, though, even among gun owners and those who think guns make a home safer, 86 and 82 percent, respectively, support expanded background checks.

One other result on gun policy is that current proposals continue to attract much stronger support than strong opposition. Strong support for background checks exceeds strong opposition by a huge 67 points; on assault weapons it's a narrower but still significant 15 point-difference; and on banning high-capacity magazines, 13 points.

POLITICS/GROUPS - Gaps among political groups remain wide. Obama's approval rating is 80 percent among nonwhites but just 37 percent among whites, 79 percent among liberals but 25 percent among conservatives and 83 percent in his own party vs. 11 percent among Republicans.

But views of the president are fueled by economic sentiment, as well. Among those who see plenty of jobs in their area, 65 percent approve of Obama's job performance; that slips to 56 percent of those who say jobs are somewhat difficult to find, and drops to just 35 percent among those who say the job market is very difficult.

Similarly, there's a vast gap in the president's approval rating between those who say the job situation is improving (75 percent approval) vs. those who say it's staying the same or getting worse, groups in which just 41 and 30 percent, respectively, approve of his work.

Still, whatever Obama's straits, the Republican Party has it tougher. Among residents of the red states, those Obama lost by 6 or more points in 2012, 68 percent say the GOP is out of touch with the concerns of most Americans; in the blue states far fewer, 46 percent, say the Democratic Party is out of touch.

The GOP is seen as out of touch by majorities in some of its key support groups, including 59 percent of conservatives overall, 55 percent of "very" conservatives and 64 percent of evangelical white Protestants. Even among people in gun-owning households, 68 percent see the Republican Party as out of touch - as many as say the same about the Democratic Party.

METHODOLOGY - This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone April 11-14, 2013, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,003 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including design effect. Partisan divisions are 33-23-36 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.

The question on a path to legal status in this poll included a test in which a random half of respondents were asked about "illegal" immigrants, the phrase used in previous ABC/Post polls, and half about "undocumented" immigrants. There was essentially no difference in results: 64-32 percent support vs. oppose in the former version, 62-34 percent in the latter.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y.