In the months before gunfire erupted at an Oregon community college in a mass shooting that killed nine people and the gunman, Floridians were deeply skeptical of proposals that would allow students to carry concealed weapons on campus, according to a survey released this week by the University of South Florida.
The USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey, taken over the summer, also shows that a majority of Florida adults favor legalizing medical marijuana, though perhaps not in strong enough numbers to adopt an amendment to the state Constitution to allow pharmacological pot.
Almost three-quarters of Floridians — 73 percent — oppose allowing students with concealed-weapons permits to carry guns on campus, according to the survey. The poll was based on 1,251 interviews conducted from July 30 to Aug. 16 and has a margin of error of 2.77 percentage points.
The results were weighted to account for characteristics like race and gender.
Outside of support for permitting law-enforcement officers to wear body cameras, the finding on firearms on campus marked the strongest percentage in agreement among people surveyed on 16 issues.
“Clearly, this is one of the ones where there’s huge consensus comparatively,” said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at USF.
Lawmakers on both sides of the state Capitol have moved forward with bills (SB 68 and HB 4001) to allow firearms on campus. Proponents argue that the proposals would make colleges safer, while opponents question the need to allow weapons in the already stress-filled college environment.
MacManus said it seems unlikely that last week’s shootings at Umpqua Community College in Oregon would lead to shifts in support or opposition for the guns-on-campus idea.
“It probably wouldn’t change much, again, because of the ideological disposition in who supports each side of this,” she said.
Another hot-button issue with widespread agreement in Florida is backing for allowing state residents to use marijuana for medical purposes. A total of 55 percent of people surveyed support the idea, according to the poll. Adding an amendment to the state Constitution would require the support of 60 percent of Florida voters; the survey was not limited to registered voters.
The survey did show an increase in support for medical marijuana of 5 percentage points from a year ago. Other polls had shown higher figures in the run-up to a 2014 vote on medical marijuana before support seemed to fade. The ballot initiative ended up with 58 percent of the vote, just short of the 60 percent threshold.
A group the spearheaded the 2014 proposal is seeking to get a medical-marijuana initiative on the November 2016 ballot. MacManus said it was too early to tell whether the support could once again lag as a vote draws closer. She noted that supporters of the medical marijuana amendment have tweaked the proposal to address some of the concerns raised by critics last year.
“We do know that last time the consequence of better advertising by one side or another probably resulted in the defeat of the amendment,” MacManus said.
Other areas of agreement in the poll were support for school choice programs and stronger environmental rules and opposition to collecting sales taxes on online purchases or giving “more rights and assistance to undocumented immigrants.”
The survey also shows some issues on which Floridians remain undecided. The state is almost evenly split among those who think implementing Common Core educational standards in public schools would be a step in the right direction, think it would be a bad idea and have no opinion or don’t know.
Pluralities oppose repealing the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law; allowing law enforcement agencies to use drones; permitting more casino gambling; approving a law to allow transgender people to use whatever restroom they choose; and repealing the death penalty. But in all five of those cases, 27 percent or more of the people surveyed said they didn’t have an opinion or didn’t know whether they supported those issues.
And while 44 percent of Floridians support taking federal funding to expand the state’s Medicaid program, 33 percent oppose the idea and 23 percent don’t have an opinion.
–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida