How do gun politics work? PPP’s post-recall poll offers a few hints

Written by . Posted in 2013 Elections, 2014 Campaigns, Polling

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Published on September 11, 2013

coPPP took the unusual step of not publishing their Colorado recall poll of Pueblo this week, simply because they couldn’t believe the results they got. Obviously, they’re regretting that decision now, since they would have appeared prescient. Now they’re stuck between two contradictory (and I think unfair) accusations — on the one hand, of suppressing the result to affect the outcome, and on the other, of self-servingly releasing an accurate number after the fact.

I don’t blame them for any of their decisions, even if I wouldn’t have made them myself. Either way, the poll’s results are very interesting. Not only did they nearly nail the result in the Pueblo-area recall of state Sen. Angela Giron, D, but they also found some serious weakening of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, D, whom other polls have found to be weak as well.

Their poll also found — I believe — that the gun control issue is more than the sum of its parts. The poll shows that even within the district, people support a more comprehensive background check system in principle — yet they love the NRA. PPP simply suggests that the NRA simply framed the gun control issue better, which is true. But in fact, the Colorado law was a lot more problematic and contentious than they let on in their analysis, and the controversy over its interpretation was only resolved in mid-July. If interpreted strictly, the law could have banned most common gun magazines, and the original version of the bill would have banned common shotguns. Update: I nearly failed to mention that Morse had originally backed a proposal to make gunmakers and gun-sellers liable in civil suits when people misused their products. This would legally sanction a back-door method for putting the whole industry out of business.

The fact that some restrictions never made it into law is almost irrelevant — the average, responsible gun owner cannot be pleased to see such ill-informed people making decisions about his or her rights. He or she probably resents the idea of potential criminal liability for some kind of technical error — such as lending an old, theoretically modifiable magazine to his daughter, cousin or neighbor — when such issues have little  or nothing to do with the high-profile shootings constantly invoked in order to justify more gun control. 

At least in Colorado’s Senate District 3, the voters appear less strongly supportive of background checks than they are averse to the reflexive legislative retaliation that occurs against gun owners whenever a high-profile shooting makes the news. If I had to guess why this poll shows such high marks for the NRA (see below), it’s because the group pushes back hard to preserve civil liberties during difficult moments. Some people admire the ACLU, even when its litigation and activism produces strange outcomes they wouldn’t choose themselves (for example, when it defends American terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan). For a lot of Americans, the NRA is their ACLU.

PPP’s topline result for the Giron recall was 54 to 42 percent — again, pretty accurate, as 56 percent voted for recall last night. Here were a few more questions: 

Q2 Do you support or oppose requiring background checks for all gun buyers?
Not sure………………….6%

I’d suggest here that you might get a different answer if you asked whether it should be a crime to sell your gun to a neighbor or family member.

Q3 Do you support or oppose limiting high-capacity ammunition magazines to 15 bullets?
Not sure………………….6%

As mentioned above, this question skirts a lot of the controversy over the law’s interpretation and legislative history. If the NRA had success in framing the issue, it was because of how ugly the legislative process was. That is one reason the responses to the following question make a lot of sense:

Q4 Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the National Rifle Association?
Not sure…………………..14%

It’s important to remember that the NRA isn’t powerful because of its large lobbying budget, nor because it has charismatic leaders (it doesn’t), nor because it’s good at crisis communications (the organization is a disaster on that score). And its cause didn’t come out on top in this election simply due to its modest $350,000 contribution, which was dwarfed by the left-wing money that poured into both recall districts. The NRA is powerful because it has so many members, and so many of them bring its printed voter guides with them on election day and pull the lever.

Combine that power with the additional fact that, with very few exceptions, they don’t ever mess with incumbents who support them. That’s one thing that separates them from the conservative groups who are currently running a Spanish Inquisition-style campaign against lawmakers who basically agree with them on all the issues. The NRA knows how to win, and it also knows how to accept “yes” for an answer. 

Q5 Do you approve or disapprove of Governor John Hickenlooper’s job performance?
Not sure………………….17%

Q6 If the candidates for Governor next year were Democrat John Hickenlooper and Republican
Tom Tancredo, who would you vote for?
John Hickenlooper……..42%
Tom Tancredo…………..42%
Not sure………………….16%

These are quite ominous — PPP notes that Hickenlooper carried this district in 2010 — I can’t find the numbers for the district itself, but he carried Pueblo County with 57 percent. Hickenlooper was believed to be an opponent of gun control, and he at first resisted the call to pass new laws after Sandy Hook.

Tancredo is also not the strongest statewide candidate one could imagine, although the Colorado Republican Party has had a hard time finding decent candidates for some time, since many of its elites (Bill Owens, Scott McInnis) have simply self-destructed in the last decade.