CNN's Confounding Prediction: NRA's Failed Election Spending Will Translate To Congressional Clout

CNN is previewing the National Rifle Association's response to the Newtown school massacre by suggesting that the NRA will “leverage” money spent during the 2012 elections during the forthcoming debate over stronger gun restrictions without noting that the vast majority of money spent by the NRA on the elections went to races where its preferred candidate lost.

CNN's citation of the NRA's unsuccessful election spending as evidence of its political influence fits within a years old narrative in media exaggerating the NRA's clout.

In a December 19 article, CNN's Halimah Abdullah credulously reported a claim by unnamed “policy experts” that the National Rifle Association will “leverage the $17 million it spent in federal races this year helping elect candidates who it considers supporters of the NRA's mission” during a potential congressional fight over new gun regulations. However, CNN failed to mention that of the nearly $18 million the NRA poured into the 2012 elections, over 95 percent was spent on races where the NRA-backed candidate lost.* Furthermore, in six of seven Senate races where the NRA spent more than $100,000, the NRA-approved candidate was defeated. CNN's reporting is typical of a myth in media that the NRA possesses the ability to remove from office politicians who favor gun violence prevention measures. From the article:

When the NRA does speak in detail, it will do so forcefully and with the type of political sway and heft the pro-gun lobby has carefully amassed over dozens of election cycles, experts say.

“When the emotions come down, I'm sure you'll hear the NRA address this issue. It'll be in January when legislation is introduced. They'll testify at hearings. You'll hear the same kind of arguments that I'd come up with,” said Richard Feldman, who served as regional political director for the NRA during its rise to power in the 1980s and is president of a gun rights group, the Independent Firearm Owners Association.

When that happens, the group will wield the full power of its millions of members and leverage the $17 million it spent in federal races this year helping elect candidates who it considers supporters of the NRA's mission, said policy experts.

The NRA spent big money during the general election attempting to place opponents of gun violence prevention measures into the Senate, spending over $1 million in Ohio, $688,802 in Virginia, $629,553 in Florida, $571,811 in Wisconsin, $343,299 in Missouri, $323,474 in Arizona and $117,612 in Maine. The candidate supported by the NRA lost in every one of those races except Arizona. In Florida, Missouri and Maine, the NRA candidate lost by over 10 points.  

Over two-thirds of House incumbents who lost reelection bids were allies of the NRA. Of the 26 defeated representatives, 18 were endorsed by the NRA. Four of the eight non-endorsed incumbents were Democrats who lost to other Democrats in California's top-two primary system.

Bipartisan polling conducted after the 2012 elections identified that the NRA's often misleading campaign messaging failed to resonate with voters in key swing states. Democratic pollster Momentum Analysis and Republican pollster Chesapeake Beach Consulting found that voters trusted President Obama more than Mitt Romney on the gun issue in Virginia, Colorado and North Carolina. Furthermore, Virginia voters who recalled hearing from the NRA stated that the material made them more favorable to Sen-elect Tim Kaine, who defeated NRA-backed George Allen in the Virginia Senate race.

As American Prospect contributing editor (and former Media Matters staffer) Paul Waldman noted in his extensive analysis of NRA spending over four election cycles between 2004 and 2010, it is highly unusual for NRA campaign cash or endorsements to be determinative of election outcomes. Even so, the traditional media often treats the NRA as an electoral powerhouse.

*Media Matters totaled spending by the NRA Political Victory Fund and the NRA Institute for Legislative Action as reported by the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation to determine the total amount of money spent on races where the NRA-preferred candidate was victorious. Of $10,536,106 spent by the NRA-PVF, 0.83 percent or $87,450 was spent on races where the NRA-backed candidate won. Of $7,419,644 spent by the NRA-ILA, 10.74 percent or $796,870 was spent on races where the NRA-backed candidate won. In sum, the NRA spent a total of $17,955,750 with $884,369, or approximately one out of every 20 dollars, going to victorious NRA-backed candidates.