Two weeks ago, before the mass-shooting in Oregon, Quinnipiac released national poll results on a variety issues, including guns. When respondents were asked, for example, “Do you support or oppose requiring background checks for all gun buyers?” the results weren’t close: 93% of Americans support the idea.
In fact, while bipartisan consensus seems difficult in these polarized times, this is an issue where Democrats and Republicans are on the same page. According to the Quinnipiac results, 90% of GOP voters support mandatory background checks for all gun buyers, 92% of independents agree, as do 98% of Democrats.
And yet, the idea stands no realistic chance of success in the Republican-led Congress. It won’t even get a vote. Elected lawmakers know what the polls say, but they don’t care.
Why is that? Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum explained the other day, “Most polls don’t tell us how deeply people feel. Sure, lots of American think that universal background checks are a good idea, but they don’t really care that much.”
I think that’s generally correct. On issues like background checks, progressives have effectively won half a battle: on key elements of the policy debate, the left has persuaded the vast majority of Americans on the merits of an idea. The second half of the battle is more complicated: making the transition from passive agreement to genuine passion for constructive change.
All of which leads us to something President Obama said on Friday, which was a departure from his previous rhetoric on the subject.
“[W]e’ve got to change the politics of this. And that requires people to feel – not just feel deeply – because I get a lot of letters after this happens. ‘Do something!’ Well, okay, here’s what you need to do.“You have to make sure that anybody who you are voting for is on the right side of this issue. And if they’re not, even if they’re great on other stuff, for a couple of election cycles you’ve got to vote against them, and let them know precisely why you’re voting against them. And you just have to, for a while, be a single-issue voter because that’s what is happening on the other side.“And that’s going to take some time. I mean, the NRA has had a good start. They’ve been at this a long time, they’ve perfected what they do. You’ve got to give them credit – they’re very effective, because they don’t represent the majority of the American people but they know how to stir up fear; they know how to stir up their base; they know how to raise money; they know how to scare politicians; they know how to organize campaigns. And the American people are going to have to match them in their sense of urgency if we’re actually going to stop this.”
I’ve seen President Obama talk about gun violence many times, but I don’t recall seeing him speak this explicitly about single-issue voting before.