President Obama made clear last weekend that he was getting ready to announce some new reforms to gun policy, setting the stage for the latest round of a heated debate. On cue, Republicans screamed bloody murder, not only after learning of the White House plan, but also before they knew any details.
Call it an “anticipatory tantrum” – GOP politicians knew they were outraged, even before they knew why.
But if their goal was to persuade the public, the party failed miserably. Last night, CNN released the results of a new national poll.
The American public is broadly supportive of the executive actions issued by President Barack Obama this week aimed at increasing the reach of federal background checks for gun purchases and improving enforcement of existing laws. […]A new CNN/ORC poll finds 67% say they favor the changes Obama announced, and 32% oppose them.
To be sure, there’s widespread skepticism that the administration’s policy will make a significant difference, but the public is nevertheless supportive of the effort itself. In fact, one of the key takeaways from this survey is how broad the backing is: most Democrats (85%), independents (65%), and Republicans (51%) favor Obama’s initiative. Most gun owners (57%) and rural residents (56%) are on board, too.
This doesn’t come as too big of a surprise, especially given polling from recent years showing roughly 90% of the public endorsing background checks on gun buyers.
In a polarized era in which partisans seem to agree on practically nothing, a rough, mainstream consensus has taken shape around this issue. The question is why this doesn’t create the conditions necessary for change.
As we discussed several months ago, the disconnect seems hard to reconcile at first blush. Politicians want to get re-elected, which generally means taking steps voters like, and yet Republicans are convinced that they’ll pay no price whatsoever for ignoring public will on curtailing gun violence – and if recent history is any guide, they’re probably correct.
The most straightforward explanation is that while so many polls are one-sided, what they don’t show is depth of commitment – voters like the idea of new safeguards in the abstract, but come Election Day, they have a series of priorities, and issues like background checks fade into the background. Democrats have persuaded the American mainstream on the merit of their ideas, but the second half of the battle is more complicated: making the transition from passive agreement to genuine passion for constructive change.
For his part, President Obama recently began pushing the idea of single-issue voting:
“[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.”
To that end, the president wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, published today, in which he makes a notable vow about changing the politics: “Even as I continue to take every action possible as president, I will also take every action I can as a citizen. I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform. And if the 90 percent of Americans who do support common-sense gun reforms join me, we will elect the leadership we deserve.”