About That “Intensity Gap” On Stronger Gun Laws

GunsA series of new polls indicate that the media was wrong to suggest that legislators who oppose strengthening guns laws would not pay a political price for their actions.

Following the Senate's failure to pass stronger gun laws earlier this month, political reporters suggested that Senate opponents of those laws had been wisely reacting to the political environment. According to those reporters, Democrats “got gun control polling wrong” because while surveys indicated that an overwhelming majority of Americans supported reforms like expanding the background check system to cover more gun sales, they may not feel as passionately about the issue as their opponents and thus for politicians: “Voting against gun control measures may well carry less negative political consequence than voting for them -- even though the poll numbers suggest the opposite is true.”

Contrary to this theory, several polls conducted since the gun votes earlier this month indicate that more voters are likely to oppose senators who voted against stronger gun laws than they are to support them:

  • Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who voted against expanding background checks after telling the mother of a victim of the Aurora theater shooting that he supported them, is now “one of the most unpopular Senators in the country,” according to a poll released April 29 by Public Policy Polling (PPP). This survey finds that “52% of voters say they're less likely to support Flake in a future election because of this vote [on guns], compared to only 19% who say they're more likely to.”
  • Alaska  Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Mark Begich (D), both of whom opposed the legislation, have seen declines in their approval since PPP last polled the state in February. According to PPP, “39% of voters say they're less likely to vote for each of Begich and Murkowski in their next elections based on this vote [on guns], while only 22% and 26% say they're more likely to vote for Begich and Murkowski respectively because of this.”
  • Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who opposed the legislation, has seen a net drop of 18 points since PPP polled his approval rating in October. According to the April poll, “36% of voters in the state say they're less likely to support Portman in a future election because of this vote [on guns] to only 19% who consider it to be a reason to support him.”
  • Background check legislation opponent Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) has seen a “more modest decline” in his approval rating, but according to PPP, “46% say they're less likely to support Heller the next time he's up for reelection compared to only 25% who are more likely to because of this vote [on guns].”
  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), another opponent of the legislation, has seen her approval drop a net 15 points since PPP's October poll, with the firm finding that “50% of voters in the state say Ayotte's 'no' vote [on guns] will make them less likely to support her in a future election, compared to just 23% who consider it to be a positive.”