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4 Data Points Show Americans Don’t Really Support Gun Control

A New York Times analysis of four “blue state” votes on background checks for gun purchases has blown a hole in the conventional wisdom that the American public broadly supports gun control.

SO WHAT

Gun-control advocates like to blame their defeats on the “gun lobby,” but the real obstacle appears to be voters themselves.

THE NUMBERS

In an analysis published Friday, Times polling guru Nate Cohn exposed a huge gap between what Americans tell pollsters about gun control and what they do in the voting booth.

Cohn compared the level of expected support for background checks based on polling to the actual support for the policy expressed in recent elections across four Democratic-leaning states.

  • In all four states — California, Washington, Nevada and Maine — campaigns on behalf of background checks outspent the opposition by a wide margin.
  • Yet, by 22 to 36 points, the voters were less in favor of background checks, one of the most popular gun control measures, than pollsters believed.
  • Background checks garnered less support than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, often on the same ballot, and lagged behind other liberal ballot initiatives.

THE UPSHOT

“The usual theories for America’s conservative gun politics do not explain the poor showings,” Cohn noted, confirming analyses by liberal dissidents like David Schor.

  • “All manner of voters, not just single-issue voters or politicians, got an equal say. The Senate was not to blame; indeed, the results suggested that a national referendum on background checks would have lost. And while the question on every ballot was different and each campaign fought differently as well, the final results were largely indistinguishable from one another.”
  • “The apparent progressive political majority in the polls might just be illusory. It simply may not exist for practical purposes,” Cohn concluded.

THE POLITICS

Although Cohn’s analysis looked at state-level elections, it has big implications for congressional Democrats’ ongoing efforts to pass national gun restrictions, including background checks.

  • While some liberal commentators, like The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, have called on Senate Democrats to end the filibuster and use their narrow majority to push through legislation, it’s not clear they can summon even this lower level of support.
  • Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., has voiced support for background checks but has opposed nixing the filibuster.

Meanwhile, the left’s bogeyman of an uber-powerful gun lobby has become increasingly difficult to sustain in recent years, with the National Rifle Association mired in financial woes and expensive legal battles.

  • The NRA’s annual income fell 23% between 2016 and 2021, from $367 million to $282 million.
  • Member dues tumbled 43% between 2018 and 2021, from $170 to $97 million.
  • The group’s political spending has also cratered, falling from $54.4 million in 2016 to $9.2 million in 2020.

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