It's Not Public Support That Matters On Guns, But How Passionate They Are

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve poked at a lot of polls and called them BS. I’ve noted, for example, how universal background checks tend to poll pretty well, but then in states that put them before voters, they failed to pass. That’s because so many polls ask generalized questions that sound good to the uninitiated, but when the rubber meets the road, folks are less than impressed.

However, there’s another factor that the polls aren’t taking into account.

See, politicians are banking a lot on polls. They see the polling numbers and think, “We can get away with this because the public likes this idea.”

Yet there’s more to any policy than whether people support something.

 President Biden will find it difficult — if not impossible — to get bipartisan support in Congress for new gun control measures, like a new assault weapons ban, which passed with bipartisan support in 1994 and expired ten years later.

Most gun control measures get broad public support, including requiring background checks for private and gun show sales (83 percent in a 2019 poll), a ban on the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines (61 percent) and a ban on the sale of semi-automatic weapons (57 percent). But what matters politically is intensity of support. Getting gun laws through Congress has always been difficult because of single-issue voting by gun rights supporters.

The gun issue drives their votes; for most other voters, it doesn’t.

Let’s say you take a poll and show a politician that his constituents divide 75 to 25 percent in favor of gun control. The politician knows what will happen if he votes for a gun control law. Maybe 10 percent of the 75 percent majority care enough about the issue to vote for him for that reason alone — but he may lose 20 out of the 25 percent on the other side. Gun owners may be a minority, but many see gun control as a threat to their Second Amendment rights. It drives their votes. They make sure politicians know it.

Single-issue voting helps explain why intensely committed minorities can hold sway over casually committed majorities. “Why are gun owners so politically powerful?” an abortion rights activist once told me in an interview: “There are more uterus owners than gun owners. And when uterus owners begin to vote their issue, we will win.”

Single-issue politics is a sort of blackmail: “We don’t care what your position is on anything else. If you are with us on our issue, we’ll support you. If you are against us, we’ll come after you.”

None of that has changed. But the political calculus has.

Why? Because of political segregation.

He’s not wrong, actually. I’ve said as much before.

Think about the bills before the Senate right now. There are Republicans who have come out in favor of universal background checks or, at least, expanding background checks. There have been Republicans who support red flag laws.

Either of these should have been a slam dunk for Democrats.

They’re not, though. Why?

Because Democrats spent years demonizing the right. They’ve spent years calling them racists, sexists, homophobic, etc., and painting them as the worst kinds of evil. Republicans in recent years have responded by pushing back and no longer caring what they’re called. We’re divided as hell right now.

As a result, those Republicans who might have crossed the aisle simply don’t care to do so. Maybe they think they’ll be labeled as traitors if they do. Maybe they’re as disgusted by Democrat antics as the rest of us. Either way, though, they’re not going to reach across the aisle to vote in favor of anything like this.

Then, couple it with the fact that gun control is a key issue for Second Amendment voters–who aren’t really single-issue voters, but it sure does drive a good deal of our decisions–and there’s absolutely no upside for these Republicans.

President Biden would do well to remember this, but given that his frequent memory lapses, I doubt that’s gonna happen..

 

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Apr 09, 2021 5:00 PM ET