A fun clip from yesterday’s show via RCP, not just because this little wishcast/harangue is so obviously the product of spite and disgruntlement over losing the big vote but because it’s so obviously wrong. If you saw the new data from Pew this morning, you know why. Ninety percent support for expanded background checks in no way means that 90 percent of the pubic is angry at the GOP over the Senate vote. Rather, the vote on Toomey/Manchin was more of a proxy vote on gun control generally: If you want more GC then you’re angry or disappointed, if you don’t then you’re fine with it even if you supported T/M. Sean Trende predicted that a few days ago, before the Pew data was released, in arguing why the vote almost certainly won’t hurt Republicans next year:
Finally, we need to remember that most Americans are relatively low-information voters who are unlikely to dig down into the details of policy papers and voting records. What they tend to do instead is use what political scientists call “shortcuts” to fill in a picture of what a candidate believes in.
For example, few voters vote primarily on the abortion issue (and those who do tend to be pro-life), but voters will use a pro-life stance to paint a broader picture of a politician as having ties to the religious right, or being opposed to broader women’s rights. Similarly, affirmative action doesn’t poll particularly well, and few politicians will actually run on the issue because it is low-salience and can paint a picture of someone who needlessly brings up a divisive racial issue.
My sense is the gun issue works the same way. While most voters are unlikely to punish a senator who supports, say, background checks, such support paints a broader picture of that senator as someone who possibly backs broader gun control, or who is liberal, or who supports an administration with mediocre national approval ratings. This is a real problem for proponents, and it isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
Gun control is, as Trende says, a proxy issue for ideology generally, which helps minimize the backlash over voting no on a bill that 90 percent of the public supports. If you like the idea of expanded background checks but don’t trust Obama or liberals or gun-grabbers generally, you can live very easily with Toomey/Manchin going down. Related to that is the fact that gun control is a quintessential (maybe the ultimate) “slippery slope” issue, if only because some of the left’s favorite proposals all but guarantee further action down the line. No one, including Joe Biden, thinks that banning “assault weapons” is going to stop mass shootings. There’ll be more, and when there are, further bans will be demanded. Give an inch now and they’ll ask for a mile later, almost necessarily. All gun-rights supporters understand that, so if you’re one of them, how broken up are you really about Toomey/Manchin failing, even if you thought the bill on its own merits was okay? Toomey himself seems to understand this. If you don’t trust Obama to protect your Second Amendment rights, you’re not going to go crying that the administration was denied an extra bit of power to regulate guns.
If Trende doesn’t convince you, read Nate Silver’s statistical analysis of whether the gun vote will hurt Republicans next year. Short answer: Probably not, unless the left can build it into some broader narrative about the GOP being “out of touch” on issues that voters care more about, like the economy. Who knows, though, if gun control will still be salient next November vis-a-vis other topics? If ObamaCare’s falling apart and insurance premiums are ticking upwards, who’s switching their vote based on what the Senate did about background checks 16 months ago? How bad would the next 16 months have to be for Obama that one of his best arguments against the GOP, worth spending lots of time and money on, is how they voted — with some Democratic support — on Toomey/Manchin? C’mon.