Overestimating the gun lobby — and conservatism generally | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Overestimating the gun lobby — and conservatism generally

Posted By on Thu, May 2, 2013 at 6:46 AM

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Here's another look — lengthy and full of multiple poll citations — on the premise that it would NOT have been politically dangerous for the Fearful Four (Democrats Begich, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, Heitkamp, Baucus) to have allowed a vote on universal gun background checks.

Thomas Edsall makes a point I hit glancingly on the same subject this week. Politicians overestimate the size of the hard-right conservative bloc. This is certainly true in Arkansas, if you believe polling on a wide range of issues from abortion to drugs to guns. But it is an article of faith in Arkansas politics and I can't think of a local politician who won a race by a concerted run to the left (outside of Hillcrest or central Fayetteville, anyway).

Still, Edsall's numbers on the national mood on broad background checks is always worth repeating. And this based on recent academic research:

The Broockmany-Skovronz paper suggests that politicians left, right and center have been making decisions on the basis of mistaken premises about their voters. One hypothesis is that the roots of this misperception originated in the early 1980s, particularly with the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, of a Republican Senate majority, and of a working conservative majority in the House.

Those events — followed by the 1994 and 2010 Republican landslides — stunned Democrats from Republican-leaning states, making them apprehensive. Fearing a conservative backlash, they were willing to shift their votes to the right.

The electorate has and will continue to punish liberal excess, but Democrats are only starting to recognize how voters have come to confront the liabilities and costs of conservatism. Democrats do not have a free hand to dole out tax-financed benefits to the liberal interest group community, but the likelihood that they will be punished for supporting common sense measures to contain gun violence is far less than it was two or three decades ago.

In the long run, the best hope for gun control advocates is the changing demographic make-up of the membership of their prime adversary, the National Rifle Association. Not only is the N.R.A. disproportionately dependent on older white men, a declining constituency, but strong majorities of current members, from 74 to 85 percent according to the polls cited above, defy the organization’s leadership and support background checks.

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