Gallup’s latest poll finds the much-demonized National Rifle Association with far higher approval ratings than two of its most prominent assailants: President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The NRA had a 58 percent approval rating, far higher than Obama’s 45 percent or Clinton’s 41 percent.
Furthermore, Gallup reports the highest “very favorable” rating for the NRA, 26 percent, since it began testing the organization’s popularity in 1989.
The NRA’s approval rating has been fairly steady in recent years, only dipping to 54 percent after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012, while peaking at 60 percent in 2005. Gallup recalls its all-time low approval rating was 42 percent in June 1995, “at a time when the NRA sent out a fundraising letter calling federal law enforcement agents ‘jack-booted government thugs’ in the wake of the Waco siege in 1993,” with the Oklahoma City bombing following soon after.
Unsurprisingly, support for the NRA is divided sharply along partisan and ideological lines, with Republicans and conservatives viewing it far more favorably than Democrats and liberals. Conservatives give the NRA a soaring 77 percent approval rating, with 41 percent “very favorable,” while liberals express only 30 percent approval, with 45 percent rating it “very unfavorable.”
It is equally unsurprising to find the National Rifle Association much more popular with gun owners (78-20 approval) than non-gun owners (49-42).
It’s tempting to view these numbers as clear evidence the Democrats are foolish for picking a political fight with an organization far more popular than their political leaders, and whose popularity has already weathered several remarkably vicious sustained assaults. Let the NRA be the rock upon which liberals break their popularity!
That’s Republican thinking.
It’s not the way Democrats see the political world. They don’t back down from a fight because their target has high approval ratings. That’s how Republicans roll. The GOP’s general strategy is to abandon fights not seen as guaranteed short-term successes. They are perpetually worried about angering a media culture that never stops hating them, and would never risk a short-term hit to their poll numbers in the hopes of long-term game. They are middleweight boxers, perpetually afraid to climb in the ring against heavyweight opponents.
Democrats, on the other hand, understand the importance of slowly moving the window of political possibility in their direction. They don’t allow themselves to lose excessive political capital after unsuccessful efforts, so the damage to their position from attacking more popular opponents is minimized. (Compare the aftermath of a failed Democrat gun-control push with the wild orgy of back-stabbing among Republicans after a debt-ceiling showdown.)
Republicans cringe from the sort of fight Democrats love to portray as David-vs.-Goliath struggles against powerful and sinister interests. They still love to excuse Obama’s failures by painting him as a well-meaning David surrounded by special-interest Goliaths, despite seven years of his trampling the Constitution and seizing unprecedented powers.
With that in mind, Democrats look at 58 percent support for the NRA and think, “Well, there’s a block of polling granite that needs serious chiseling!” Then they roll up their sleeves and get to work.
Is it truly cause for celebration that a law-abiding voluntary organization of Americans – a group outspokenly dedicated to law and order, in a time of anxiety about lawlessness – has only a 58 percent approval rating… and closer to fifty-fifty among people who don’t own guns, or have an ideological commitment to the Second Amendment, or a partisan instinct to rally around groups that come under savage attack from the Left? Short-term, going after gun rights certainly does look like a loser for Democrats. Most of their plans are not short-term.