WASHINGTON -- A new poll has New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) down a total of 15 points from her previous approval rating in a survey that followed her vote against requiring background checks for firearms purchases.
Ayotte's plunge underscores the changing politics around gun control and gun safety. In years past, lawmakers worried that a vote for gun control would bring the anger of the National Rifle Association. In the new reality, votes against gun control also carry a political risk, as the Ayotte poll indicates.
A full three-quarters of New Hampshire voters support such background checks, along with 56 percent of Republicans, according to Public Policy Polling. A WMUR Granite State Poll taken in January and February found that more than 9 in 10 state residents supported implementing background checks at gun shows.
It's not entirely clear yet how opposition to background checks will play out at the polls, but there are signs Ayotte’s vote may have taken a toll.
In October, the last time that PPP surveyed voters about Ayotte, she had a 48-35 approval rating. She has now tumbled underwater, with 46 percent disapproving and 44 percent approving. The 11-point surge in disapproval threatens Ayotte's 2016 reelection, when she could face popular Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. Ayotte won her 2010 race by 23 points, but in a hypothetical matchup against Hassan trails 46-44.
Forty-five percent of independents in the state disapproved of Ayotte, up 13 points since October. Half of voters said her vote on background checks made them less inclined to vote for her, with only a quarter saying it made them more likely to support her.
Among the critical third of voters who described themselves as moderates, disapproval of Ayotte increased by 21 points, with two-thirds saying her vote against background checks made them less likely to vote for her. Only 13 percent said it made them more likely to back her, an overwhelming 5-1 margin.
Local coverage has not been friendly to Ayotte. Sunday’s Portsmouth Herald headlined its editorial: "If you want gun control, vote Ayotte out of office."
"New Hampshire voters who care passionately about sensible gun legislation can contribute to the effort by defeating U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the only senator in New England to vote against the Toomey-Manchin bill. Ayotte justified her vote by parroting the NRA, saying the measure would 'place unnecessary burdens on law-abiding gun owners and allow for potential overreach by the federal government into private gun sales.'"
The Concord Monitor was flooded with angry letters and ran a rough cartoon of her. The editorial page called it a "double abomination." She was hit by a tough ad paid for by Gabby Giffords’ group -- the kind of on-the-ground spending that is helping to alter the political dynamic.
Dean Debnam, president of PPP, sees it as trouble for Ayotte. “New Hampshire is a good bellwether for fallout from the gun vote,” he said. “There’s serious backlash from voters toward Kelly Ayotte for how she handled this issue.”
The PPP poll surveyed 933 New Hampshire voters using automated phone calls between April 19 and 21.