Mass shooting leaves public agitated but conflicted on gun policy

ST. LEO, FL – Americans who approve of the job performance of President Donald J. Trump lately came to 40.7 percent in the latest Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( survey, holding around the same level as previous poll results from November and September 2017.

The poll was conducted online among 1,007 respondents from February 18 through February 24, 2018. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points in either direction. The same questions were asked of a parallel sample of 500 respondents in Florida.

President Trump and other top Republicans continue to linger at approval ratings that are less than 50 percent in the Saint Leo survey. Respondents are specifically asked whether they strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove, or strongly disapprove of the job performance of the leaders. Results for strongly approve and somewhat approve are added together for the overall approval rating; the same process is applied to arrive at the disapproval rating.

Detailed Overall Approval Ratings Over Time for President Trump

Rate President Trump’s job performance

Feb. 2018
U.S.  |    FL

     Nov. 2017

   U.S.   |  FL

Sept. 2017

 – %

U.S. |   FL

March 2017


 U.S.    |   FL

Combined approvals 40.7 42.6 41.2 41.8 42.8 43 44.1 48.7
Strongly approve 17.8 23.2 17.7 21.6 20.2 22 23.4 25.8
Somewhat approve 22.9 19.4 23.5 20.2 22.6 21 20.7 22.9

Frank Orlando, political scientist and director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute commented: “In this hyper polarized era, it’s not surprising that President Trump’s approval rating hasn’t changed very much since he was elected. There’s very little he can do to convince his detractors to support him, and perhaps even less that would cause his supporters to jump ship.”

The survey also asks respondents to consider 15 specific topic areas and report how they rate President Trump’s job performance in those spheres. For instance, he garnered overall approval ratings nationally of 59.8 percent in support for troops and the military in the most recent poll. His approval ratings were just slightly over half, at 51.4 percent, in jobs and the economy, and 48.6 percent in protecting the United States from terrorism. In all those areas, his job performance ranks above the 40.7 percent he earned overall. Those have been the areas where he has scored the highest over time. Florida followed the same pattern, though residents of the state awarded higher marks on job performance.

In 10 other areas, his recent overall approval ratings nationally were in the 30-percent range: handling immigration decisions, revamping Obamacare, handling the budget process with Congress, addressing the opioid crisis in America, handling racial divisions in the country, hiring personnel, and dealing with the news media. Trump’s favorables were also in the 30-percent range on international matters listed: handling North Korea; handling relations with Russia; and handling relations with other nations generally. In Florida, the respondents were more generous in some of the favorability scores with ratings in the 40 percent range in six of the 10 issues, but in the 30s on another four of the issues concerning domestic or international issues.

Trump’s approval ratings was 28.3 percent nationally when it came to using his family members in government. His worst rating nationally, at 22.1 percent, was about his Twitter messages. Florida survey respondents were in close agreement with favorability answers on the nepotism and Twitter issues, 29.8 percent and 23.8 percent respectively.

See the related press release for information on how Republican leaders nationally fared in job approval ratings from the public.

Consistent Issues on the Minds of Voters
The polling institute also has consistently asked what issue in governance people rank as the most important. Respondents pick a single issue from a list of 18. Jobs and the economy generally tops the list, and did again in February with 18 percent of respondents nationally identifying that as their prime concern.

“It appears as though President Trump would do well to stick with issues having to do with the economy and the military if he has any chance of pushing his approval toward the 50-percent mark,” Saint Leo’s Orlando said. “This is especially true considering the fact that almost a fifth of respondents consider jobs and the economy to be their No. 1 issue. His inability to stay focused on those issues has meant that some of his less favorable attributes have remained relevant in the news.”

Health care was again second in the ranging, with 13.7 percent of respondents selecting that one. Still, health care was down several points from 20.9 percent in November 2017, and from the two prior surveys.

New Development
Gun violence emerged third on the list of issues cited as most important to Americans—an apparent after-effect of the mass shooting at a Florida high school February 14 that left 17 people dead. The survey was received by respondents only days after the crime.

Nationally, 9.8 percent of people identified gun violence as the most important problem in the United States. In November 2017, 6.7 percent of respondents saw the issue as most important nationally, and in prior polls, the answer had been selected in a range between 1.4 percent of respondents to 5.4 percent. It is typically ranked behind other issues such as the economy, health care, government spending and the federal deficit, terrorism, homeland security policy, and sometimes immigration.

This time, the federal budget deficit, at 9.3 percent, was cited by a half-percentage point fewer respondents than gun violence.

In Florida, where the state legislature was in its annual session when the crime occurred, gun violence was selected by 9.4 percent of the respondents as the most important issue facing the nation. That percentage put gun violence ranked in the fourth place of importance (in a tie) among Florida respondents. It appeared after health care, which was chosen by 16.2 percent; jobs and the economy, named by 15.4 percent; and government spending and the federal deficit, identified by 11.8 percent of respondents.

In prior surveys in Florida, gun violence has been named as the most important issue more rarely, with the topic chosen by 7 percent of respondents in a previous high in September 2016. But gun violence was less prominent in September 2017 when it was cited by 1 percent of respondents, the smallest percent recorded.

Another phenomenon occurred in both the Florida and national survey results. As gun violence moved up in the relative ranking of important issues, so did Second Amendment rights/gun control. (The survey’s shorthand questionnaire is asking whether respondents are concerned for protection of gun ownership rights or possible restrictions.) In the Florida survey, Second Amendment rights were selected by 9.4 percent of respondents, the same percentage who identified gun violence as of prime importance. So the two points of view were actually tied in fourth-place ranking in order of importance, after health care, jobs and the economy, and concerns about government spending and a federal deficit.

Among the national poll respondents, concern over Second Amendment right also rose in the sheer number of those citing it as the most important issue, to 8.3 percent of respondents. That is just 1.5 percentage points less than the 9.8 percent of respondents who named gun violence as the most prominent concern.

Second Amendment rights on the national survey are generally named by fewer respondents by far as their primary issue: the range has been 0.7 percent to 3.4 percent. The advance to 8.3 percent of respondents leaves it in a position behind jobs and the economy (18 percent), health care (13.7 percent), gun violence, government spending and the deficit (9.3 percent), and immigration (8.6 percent.). But it leap frogged over homeland security, which was at 6.2 percent in February, and is generally cited by between 6 percent and 7-plus percent of respondents.

About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: The poll sampled opinions of 1,007 adults approximately proportional to state population contribution nationwide. The survey was conducted February 18 through February 24, 2018. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The poll has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.

A sample of 500 Florida respondents has an associated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

Media contacts:
Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).
Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).

About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University ( is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. Saint Leo welcomes people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourages learners of all generations. The university is committed to providing educational opportunities to the nation’s armed forces, veterans, and their families. Saint Leo is regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and the faculty and staff guide all students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving more than 13,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 90,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.