12/03/2012 04:01 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Voters Pry NRA's Influence Out of Its Hands

Candidates feeling cowed by NRA influence should fear no more. NRA spending this cycle was ineffective -- or at least insufficient. In six of seven U.S. Senate races where NRA spending exceeded $100,000, their favored candidate lost (see this Media Matters report). And according to campaign finance watchdog group The Sunlight Foundation, the NRA Political Victory Fund's return on investment on their 2012 general election campaign spending was less than 1 percent -- the worst track record of all major political committees and organizations.

Polls confirm this too. Immediately following the election my firm, along with Republican pollster Bob Carpenter, president of Chesapeake Beach Consulting, conducted polling in battleground states on behalf of the bipartisan group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG). We wanted to see whether, and how strongly, gun issues influenced the election. We chose North Carolina (a battleground state voting for Romney), Virginia (where the NRA was active in the Senate race), and Colorado (the location of a recent mass shooting). The results were remarkably consistent.

(We conducted 500 telephone interviews in each state, November 7-8, 2012. A voter file of registered voters was used, with voters further screened for having voted in the 2012 Presidential general election. The margin of error for each survey is +/-4.4 percent.)

Despite Vast Election Spending, NRA Didn't Move The Needle & More Favor Obama Over Romney On Guns

Survey results confirm the NRA has little to show for its investment, either in voter recall or persuasion. Only about a quarter of voters in each state recalled seeing, reading or hearing something from the NRA about the Presidential (or Virginia Senate) race (27 percent in Colorado, 22 percent in North Carolina, 26 percent in Virginia). Recall in non-gun-owning households was even lower (13 percent in CO, 15 percent in NC,17 percent in VA).

And in no state did Romney best Obama on the issue. About half of Virginians trusted Obama over Romney on gun laws, while Obama led Romney among Coloradans and North Carolinians within the margin of error.


The NRA's efforts in the Virginia senate race -- spending at least $700,000 to help Republican George Allen -- produced mixed results at best. Among voters who remembered hearing from the NRA, slightly more actually said it made them more favorable about Senator-Elect Tim Kaine (34 percent) than less favorable (30 percent). The effect of NRA messaging on Republican George Allen's standing was similarly mixed (31 percent more favorable as a result, 29 percent less favorable). And those who recalled hearing the NRA's message were more likely to be in their base; they were disproportionately Republican, male and living in gun-owning households.

(Note: actual NRA spending likely exceeds these estimates. October spending reports have not yet been filed with the FEC, and the NRA is not required to disclose spending on communications deemed educational, rather than political, in nature.)

Voters Favor Stronger Gun Laws

Previous polling consistently shows (here, here, here and here) voters favor stronger gun laws, both as a general proposition, and when asked about specific reforms. Our results reinforce those findings.

Voters in the three targeted states overwhelmingly believe all gun buyers should first pass a background check, and believe sex offenders and those with domestic violence arrests shouldn't be able to carry concealed guns across state lines.

Majorities also oppose national reciprocity for concealed carry permits -- the NRA's top federal priority. The National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act would allow people to bring a concealed, loaded gun into any state, even if they fail to meet local permitting requirements.

Voters in gun-owning households are no different from the electorate at large on these measures.


Guns Not a Vote Driver, But Majorities Call For Reform in President's Second Term

As the nation recovers from the worst recession since the Great Depression, the economy and jobs topped voters' concerns, and few said gun policy drove their vote. Even so, a majority of voters in each of these battleground states said the candidates' position on guns was a factor in their decision.


Regardless of the role gun policy played in the election, large majorities of voters in each state want gun laws to be at least "somewhat important" of a priority for President Obama in his second term. Democrats in Virginia and Colorado were more likely than others in their state to call for reform. In North Carolina, independents are most supportive of making gun law reform a priority.


So remember these results the next time you hear about the power of the NRA. They failed to influence elections, and their agenda fails with voters.

[Update: Specified official name of NRA campaign fund.]