Annual Kansas opinion survey captures robust support for gun control measures

Gov. Laura Kelly’s plus-50% approval rating vastly exceeds Biden’s favorability mark

By: - October 31, 2022 9:41 am
Podcast guests appear via video conference on laptop screen

Political scientists from Kansas universities discuss findings of the 2022 Kansas Speaks survey. The survey found that Kansans are eager to broaden gun control laws by blocking sales to violent offenders. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Three of every four Kansans taking part in a statewide survey support a minimum age of 21 to purchase a firearm and endorsed a prohibition on sales of guns to people convicted of violent misdemeanors or anyone reported as dangerous to law enforcement by a mental health provider.

At least 73% sharing their views in the Fort Hays State University survey wouldn’t object to requiring background checks on private gun sales and purchases at gun shows, but support has weakened slightly since 2019. The report said more than seven of 10 Kansans were open to mandating a three-day waiting period before a purchased gun could be taken home.

More than 70% would grant family members the right to ask a court to temporarily remove guns from a relative considered a risk to harming themselves or others. And, two-thirds were comfortable with leaving that decision to law enforcement officers.

Slim majorities of 52% would allow teachers and administrators with training to carry firearms in schools, ban the sale of assault-style weapons and ammunition clips with more than 10 bullets.

Alexandra Middlewood, a professor at Wichita State University assisting with the “Kansas Speaks” survey, said on the Kansas Reflector podcast that the 2022 edition included 10 questions on gun control. Half of respondents in the survey said they had a firearm in their home.

“We did see higher support, considerably higher support, for requiring gun owners to be 21 years of age or older to purchase a firearm,” Middlewood said.

Brett Zollinger, director of the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at FHSU in Hays, said versions of the statewide survey had been done since 2009 to fill a void in terms of documenting opinions of Kansans on quality-of-life topics, contemporary public affairs items and policy options debated by the Kansas Legislature.

“We feel it’s important to bring those items to the attention of legislators, but also, you know, fellow Kansans, so that everyone can see what others in the state are thinking,” Zollinger said.

He said it was interesting 75% of respondents were convinced expansion of eligibility for Medicaid to more than 100,000 more Kansans would benefit struggling rural hospitals because the federal government would pay 90% of the cost increase. Overall, 71.9% said the Legislature should approve expansion. Gov. Laura Kelly has proposed four such bills, but all were deflected.

Patrick Miller, a professor of political science at University of Kansas, said he contributed questions to the survey and was struck by the feedback about how Kansans might response to a ban on abortion. The proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution, which could have set the table for a full-scale prohibition on the procedure, was soundly defeated by voters in August.

“But I think a lot of supporters of that ban have made it clear that they’re going to continue to work towards that, likely through changing how judges are selected,” Miller said. “I think one thing that’s missing from public opinion surveys to a large degree right now is these questions that ask about the nuts and bolts of enforcing these bans.”

On that front, the Docking Institute survey said 77.4% of those questioned weren’t willing to contact authorities to report a woman suspected of having an illegal abortion or to report her medical provider if the state banned all ore most abortions. In addition, 76% thought the state government ought to pay most of the cost of prosecuting people who violated restraint on abortion.

“Most Kansans prefer that the state take on the cost of paying for those prosecutions, which is interesting because that’s not typically how abortion bans are going to be enforced in many of the states that surround us,” he said.

Miller said responses to questions about election security indicated 69.1% were confident the vote-counting system in Kansas accurately reported winners and losers. Other findings of this year’s survey of 500 people in September and October: 60.2% want to preserve early voting, 54.4% prefer to keep ballot drop boxes and 53.8% want to stick with voting by mail.

“Even though we see that Kansans mostly trust our election process, I think we have to square that with how these attitudes often get meshed out in reality,” he said. “Take, for example, the Republican primary for secretary of state where an election denier, who called for violence and war against Democrats and liberals in 2020, took 45% in the secretary of state’s primary.”

His reference was to the GOP primary in August between incumbent Secretary of State Scott Schwab and challenger Mike Brown, a former Johnson County Commission member. Schwab prevailed with 55.2% of the vote, but election denier Brown pulled down 44.7%.

Michael Smith, who teaches political science at Emporia State University, said the survey surprised him in terms of the approval gap between Democratic President Joe Biden and Democratic Gov. Kelly, who is running for reelection against Attorney General Derek Schmidt. Conservative state Sen. Dennis Pyle, an independent candidate from Hiawatha, also will be on the Nov. 8 ballot

He said the avalanche of campaign commercials attempting to link Biden to Kelly may not prove to have been convincing to Kansas voters. The poll showed 50.4 of respondents were satisfied with Kelly’s performance. That was much higher than Biden’s approval rating of 32.6%.

“There’s some evidence that Governor Kelly’s plan to portray herself as a Kansas Democrat, which is basically an independent and a moderate not tied to the national Democratic Party … is working,” Smith said.

He also was intrigued 66.7% took the view high school athletes should compete in sports on the basis of their gender at birth, but only 16.1% favored withholding certain books from high school libraries.

“Just a great reminder that we like to put politics in these liberal-conservative boxes. But that’s not how voters think. They see those two issues as separate and they have different opinions on them,” Smith said.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.