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What influence does a front-page editorial in The New York Times have on public opinion? A strong negative influence, judging from the only two examples from the last 95 years. The Times famously ran a front-page editorial Dec. 4 calling for drastic gun control measures, including confiscation of weapons. The response: No. The latest CBS/New York Times poll reports that 50 percent oppose "a nationwide ban on assault weapons," while only 44 percent support it.

That's a sharp reversal of trend: In January 2011, 63 percent supported the ban on "assault weapons" — a vague term that invites agreement, even though any gun, even a toy pistol, can be used to assault someone (consult your law dictionary) and the 1990s legislation banning "assault weapons" distinguished them from other guns by purely cosmetic criteria.

The Times' second-most recent front-page editorial, published in June 1920, had a similar effect. It criticized the Republican National Conventions' nomination of Warren G. Harding as that of "a candidate whose nomination will be received with astonishment and dismay by the party whose suffrages he invites." Voters took a different view that fall.

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