CAPS - Harris Poll on Gun Control, Trade, and Foreign Policy

April 4, 2018

March 2018 poll by the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard (CAPS) and The Harris Poll shows that Americans favor the Second Amendment but also seek federal legislation to curb gun violence.

Voters support trade policy in principle, but wonder if current agreements do more harm than good. For American voters, tariffs may be a risky, but necessary means to better trade deals.

Poll looks deeply at Foreign Policy and the administration.

Political Climate

President Trump’s approval shows little change month over month, moving down one point to 44 percent in the newest poll conducted by the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard (CAPS) and The Harris Poll in March 2018, among 1,340 registered voters.

However, the President’s approval among women has declined markedly, from 41% in January to 35% in March, in the wake of the Stormy Daniels scandal. The approval rating gap between men and women is particularly pronounced among white men (59%) and white women (35%).

The President’s approval in specific areas is holding steady as well. His strong areas continue to be his handling of the economy (52% approve), fighting terrorism (53%), and stimulating jobs (54%, down three points). Weak areas include foreign affairs (42%), immigration (46%), and administering the government (40%).

The poll shows an upswing in approval of the Democratic Party – up five points to 44% (from 39% in February) – exceeding its previous high (43% in September 2017) since the President took office. This increase is consistent across party lines.

In a generic ballot, Democrats led Republicans (45% vs. 34%). The majority of voters would like to see the Democrats take control of the House (57%) and the Senate (57%).

Gun Control

Most people support the gun control measures proposed by the White House, in particular, improved background checks (90%); empowering state authorities to remove guns from people deemed a threat (85%); and the STOP School Violence act (82%). However, many (52%) say that the White House proposals do not go far enough to curb gun violence.

Large majorities of Americans support key initiatives not supported by the White House:

  • Congress increasing the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 (78%)
  • An outright ban on semi-automatic weapons (63%)
  • Updated gun licensing requirements (72%)

While American voters stop short of effectively repealing the Second Amendment – 68% oppose reserving gun ownership for law enforcement and military only – there is also a belief that gun control can make a difference in curbing school shootings (61%). Americans believe the recent gun control rallies to be grass roots student movements (63%). They also believe that gun laws are a federal issue (60%), as opposed to a state or local one (40%).

Trade Policy

Overall, American voters are supportive of open trade positions in that free trade helps the United States (53%) and themselves personally (54%).

Americans appear to be more skeptical of current trade agreements than they are of free trade in general. Concerning U.S. trade agreements in place today, 55% believe they cost American jobs as opposed to create jobs (45%). Only 40% of voters believe current trade agreements lower consumer prices, 37% of voters believe prices are higher as a result, and 23% do not believe current trade agreements affect prices.

There is concern over the steel and aluminum import tariff, although 61% percent of voters approve of President Trump using the tariff to negotiate more favorable terms with America’s trading partners.

Overall, 52% of Americans oppose the steel and aluminum tariffs. Voters are also more likely to see the tariffs as resulting in a loss of American jobs (43%) as opposed to protecting them (38%). Sixty-seven percent of voters are concerned about the risk of the tariffs inciting a trade war.

China Policy

Although Americans are supportive of a China that is stable, prosperous, and plays by accepted global rules (55%), voters feel strongly that the United States should take steps to correct the $375 billion trade deficit with China (71%) and that China should be punished for forcing U.S. companies to give up technology secrets (67%), even at risk of a trade war. A majority are in support of the administration’s current plan to impose a $30 billion tariff on Chinese goods and products to address the trade imbalance (58%).

FBI-McCabe Scandal

Americans are negative on the FBI’s possible conflicts of political interest. Two thirds of Americans (67%) favor a special counsel to investigate potential abuses at the FBI.

Overall,  36% of voters have heard of the story of Andrew McCabe’s wife and the $700,000 contribution to her Virginia State Senate campaign by Clinton confidante, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. When prompted with the news, over half of voters polled believe it  (56%). For most voters, this story would constitute corruption (57%) – as opposed to “typical” campaign activities and believe McCabe should have recused himself from the Hillary Clinton investigation conducted by the FBI (74%).

Domestic Policy

Americans continue to favor (65%) a DACA deal that would include a path to citizenship for DACA recipients, but also increases merit-based immigration and funding for the U.S.-Mexico border. Americans, however, are in opposition (53%) of the so-called sanctuary laws in California currently the subject of a White House lawsuit.

The $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill is opposed by a slight majority of Americans (52%), although most Americans believe President Trump was “right to sign it” (56%) in order to avoid a government shutdown.

For more information on the March poll, go to the CAPS/Harris Poll website for the detailed results, and please visit The Hill ( for first look analysis of all polls.

The CAPS/Harris Poll website will be updated throughout the week with more information about the poll.



The survey was conducted by The Harris Poll online within the United States between March 27-29, 2018, among 1,340 registered voters.

The results reflect a nationally representative sample. Results were weighted for age within gender, region, race/ethnicity, marital status, household size, income, employment, and education where necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

The poll was supervised by Harvard Professor of Government and CAPS Faculty Director Stephen Ansolabehere, Mark Penn, and Dritan Nesho. Harvard Assistant Professor of Government, Jon Rogowski, contributed to this month’s CAPS-Harris Poll.

Stephen Ansolabehere has 25 years’ experience conducting survey research and experimental research in the field of political science.

Mark Penn is a former presidential pollster and has 40 years of polling experience.

Dritan Nesho is a fellow at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science and has over 11 years of polling and data analytics experience.