A recent national survey of hunters conducted by the bipartisan research team of Public Opinion Strategies (R) and Global Strategy Group (D) this month indicates an overwhelming conservation ethic and concern about the future of hunting among this audience. From Tea Party supporters to Democratic hunters, overwhelming majorities of American hunters of all political persuasions express strong support for investments in public lands and conservation; reject the sale of public lands; and say that conservation programs should not suffer disproportionate cuts. This support for these policies likely stems from some widely-shared beliefs of hunters that public lands are essential to our economy; that children not spending enough time in nature is a serious problem; and that protections for land, water and wildlife are not in conflict with the goal of having a strong economy.
In addition, we queried hunters on their views of a few issues related to guns given the current national debate. Hunters express strong support for universal background checks, particularly when certain exclusions are included. They also call for stronger penalties for those involved in trafficking of weapons, but reject a ban on assault weapons.
Specifically the survey found that…
- Hunters express strong regard for public lands and opposition to their sale – not surprising given that over two-thirds have hunted on public lands recently. The survey clearly demonstrates a clear appreciation for public lands on multiple questions:
- 91% say that “public lands like our national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are an essential part of our economy.” This is 21 points higher agreement than among voters overall in a June 2012 survey.
- 73% are opposed to the sale of “some public lands, such as National Forest or Bureau of Land Management lands, as a way to help reduce the budget deficit.”
- 69% have hunted on public lands in the past five years.
- Four-in-five side with a positive view of public lands, rather than a statement that expresses some of the recent criticisms of public lands from some quarters, as evident here:
- Hunters strongly support adequate funding for land conservation through a variety of means:
- More than four-in-five (81%) indicate support for “state and federal funding used to acquire more land for public hunting and wildlife management.” A majority (52%) strongly support this.
- Support for dedicating funds to the Land and Water Conservation Fund is very strong among hunters. Nine-in-ten hunters indicate support for “the federal government dedicating a small portion of fees already being paid by oil and gas companies for offshore drilling to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was created by Congress so that those fees could be used for conservation, wildlife, and clean water and providing access to outdoor recreation throughout the country.” This is higher than support among the overall electorate in a June 2012 survey.
- There is also strong support for farm bill conservation programs, as 84% indicate support for “the federal government providing financial incentives for farmers and ranchers to conserve land for wildlife habitat, allow for public access, and practice sustainable farming and ranching methods, such as the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and Walk‐in Access Programs.”
- Over three-quarters (77%) say that “cuts to funding for land conservation and wildlife habitat” is a serious problem today.
- Fully 72% say that “even with federal budget problems, funding to safeguard land, water and wildlife should not be cut.”
- If cuts have to be made, hunters clearly do not want to be disproportionate. One-third (36%) say programs to protect water, natural areas and wildlife should be cut less than other federal programs, 59% say they should be cut in the same proportion, and a mere 3% think they should be cut more than other federal programs.
- This level of support for additional land conservation is not surprising, given that many hunters view the loss of certain areas as a significant problem today. When asked to rate a number of potential problems as either an extremely serious problem, very serious, somewhat serious or not a serious problem in their state, solid majorities of hunters register significant concern about …
- 77% say loss of farms and ranches is a serious problem;
- 76% say loss of habitat for fish and wildlife is a serious problem;
- 73% say fewer opportunities for hunting and fishing is a serious problem; and
- 74% say reduced water quality in rivers, lakes and streams is a serious problem.
- This sense of loss is underscored by personal experience for hunters who say there are fewer hunting opportunities close to where they live today. 66% indicate there are fewer hunting opportunities, while only 18% say there are more. In addition, 89% say they “worry that our outdoor traditions and recreation opportunities are being lost for the next generation.” A stunningly high 94% also say that “children not spending enough time in the outdoors and in nature” is a problem today (73% an extremely or very serious problem), further underscoring hunters’ concerns for the future of their sport.
- Another concern for hunters is that their voice is not being heard in Washington today. This frustration comes through in multiple questions in the survey, including…
- 88% say that it is a problem that there are “not enough sportsmen making their voices heard on decisions made by Congress affecting sportsmen interests;”
- Only 33% think the ideas and points of view of sportsmen are taken into account when decisions are made in Congress;
- However, 96% believe they should be taken into account – a view that cuts across party, demographic and geographic lines.
- Elected officials should take note: conservation issues are of importance to hunters in making decisions about voting. When asked “Compared to other issues like the economy, health care, and education, how important are issues involving protecting wildlife habitat, clean water, opportunities for hunting and fishing and access to public lands for you in deciding whether to support an elected public official?” nearly half (44%) say they are very important, meaning of primary importance, even considering there are other issues like the economy, education and health care. Fully 93% in total say that they are very or somewhat important in evaluating their elected officials.
- As strongly as hunters’ views of conservation are held, so too do changes in gun laws register an intense response.
- 84% oppose “Making it illegal to manufacture or sell semi‐ automatic firearms, that some call assault weapons.” Fully three-quarters (74%) strongly oppose this change. A majority of hunters across the political spectrum are opposed.
- 93% support “increasing criminal penalties for people convicted of illegally trafficking guns to criminals,” with 88% strongly supporting this.
- 77% support “Requiring anyone who wants to purchase a firearm to pass a criminal background check before each potential gun purchase,” with 60% strongly supporting. A majority of hunters in every region and among every key partisan and demographic group indicate support for this idea in progress.
- However, hunters’ views on universal background checks can shift around when provided with new information. These hunters do react based on the latest information provided to them. So when told that “As you may know, current federal background check laws only apply to gun sales by a licensed gun dealer, but do not require background checks when guns are sold between private individuals, such as at gun shows or online,” then support declines somewhat to 59%.
Yet when told about some potential exclusions that could be part of this legislation, support rebounds. Respondents were asked “if the requirement for a criminal background check law included some specific exemptions such as not applying to gun exchanges between family members, sharing guns on hunting trips and shooting ranges, or sales to those who have concealed carry permits from state government, would you then support or oppose requiring criminal background checks on each potential gun purchase?” As the following graph illustrates, support increases after hearing about these potential exclusions:
- Overall, it is clear that conservation is a clear priority for hunters. The data demonstrates the unique and intense support that sportsmen have for conservation of natural areas, water and wildlife habitat. While hunters are clearly engaged in the outdoors, they worry about the next generation and that their outdoor traditions are being lost. They also feel their voices are not being heard in Washington on issues affecting them.
Hunters espouse strong support for universal background checks of firearms, particularly if certain common sense provisions are included. At the same time, they reject an assault weapons ban. They do believe that some middle ground can be found balancing Second Amendment rights with the desire to stop the misuse of guns.