The Daily Show’s new host Trevor Noah lampooned Republican candidates for taking strong positions against abortion while defending current gun laws. He compared “pro-lifers” to “comic book collectors.”
“Human life only holds value until you take it out of the package, and then it’s worth nothing,” Noah said.
But it turns out, public opinion on gun control is driven by partisanship and has zero to do with stances on abortion. Lots of pro-choice people oppose gun restrictions; many pro-life people want more government oversight.
The American National Election Study includes data on both abortion attitudes and positions on gun control. The survey finds that 42 percent of people who think that abortion should never be allowed favor more gun control measures. The percentage is about the same for others who want some restrictions on abortion. Support for gun control goes up for those who view abortion as a personal choice, but only to 52 percent. This is statistically significant but far from dramatic.
And it ignores the effect of partisanship. Among Democrats, support for gun control is about 60 percent regardless of their position on abortion. Pro-life Democrats and Pro-choice Democrats hold the same position on gun control.
The same goes for Republicans. Only one-in-four Republicans want government to decrease access to guns. This low level of support for gun control is consistent, no matter their position on abortion. Pro-life Republicans and Pro-choice Republicans are the same…almost. The most extreme pro-lifers in the GOP—who hold that abortion should never be permitted—are slightly more in favor of gun control than other Republicans.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Noah is right that gun control saves lives. When Noah lampooned pro-life Republican candidates, he was only half-right. It’s not being pro-life that mattered, it was the fact that they were Republican. There are many Americans who are pro-life and not Republican, and they tend to favor gun control. There are also pro-choice Republicans—they agree with pro-lifers in their party.
The Daily Show bit works because it puts people in boxes. Pro-lifers and gun backers in the Republican box. Pro-choice and gun control advocates in the Democrat box. When Republican candidates take positions gun control, they’re viewed as being representative of all pro-lifers. They’re not.