The Changing Politics of Gun Control

by evanmcmurry

While Kelly Ayotte saw her approval ratings plummet and her townhalls go south following her vote against background checks, two red/swing state senators are benefiting from their vote for background checks:

45% of voters in the state say they’re now more likely to support Landrieu for reelection because she voted for background checks, compared to only 25% who say they’re now less likely to vote for her. Landrieu has also seen a 6 point improvement in her net approval rating from the last time we polled the state in February, from +2 then at 47/45 to now +8 at 49/41.

It’s a similar story in North Carolina. There 73% of voters support background checks with only 22% opposed. Again there is a strong consensus across party lines with more than 60% of Democrats (86/11), independents (67/28), and Republicans (61/34) all supporting them.  52% of voters say they’re more inclined to reelect Hagan next year because she voted for background checks, while only 26% of voters say they will be less likely to support her because of it.

Hagan and Landrieu are both faring a lot better on this issue than their Republican colleagues in these states. 50% of North Carolinians say they’re less likely to vote for Richard Burr in the future because of his opposition to background checks, compared to only 26% who consider his vote to be a positive. And in Louisiana 41% of voters say they’re less likely to vote for David Vitter in the future based on his vote on this bill, compared to just 25% more likely to.

Obvious disclaimers: the election is still eighteen months away, polling doesn’t really mean that much, credibility interval, etc.

But still: all available evidence indicates that gun control, or at least a cautious, moderate version of it, is no longer a suicide pill for Democrats, even in swing states. The recent failure of any gun control measure to pass the Senate looks on the surface like a stinging defeat, but the politics shifted during the debate: the NRA wildly overreached, public opinion moved considerably more toward center, and most important, the so-called “enthusiasm gap”—the theory, true until now, that gun owners overwhelmed with intensity any possible majority on gun control issues—is beginning to close. The Newtown families’ admirable and forceful lobby work on the issue is giving a new ferocity to gun control arguments.

Two of the possible outcomes: the Toomey-Manchin bill comes up again—they’ve both pledged it’s not done—and other senators take note of the outcome from the last vote and switch. Or senators who voted for the background check see a benefit in 2014, and revise the truth that a gun control vote is suicide.