When the Senate defeated every single amendment to proposed gun control legislation last week, Harry Reid was forced to withdraw the entire bill. An enraged President Obama made a scathing statement at the White House, flanked by Newtown parent and Gabby Giffords. His message? Average Americans are disgusted with Congress' callous, dysfunctional inaction, and those responsible will pay a price at the ballot box. To which actual average Americans have responded with a collective meh:
The Senate’s defeat of a package of popular proposals aimed at curbing gun violence last week seemed certain to foment public outrage at out-of-touch politicians who don’t listen to their constituents. Not so much, according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll. Yes, a plurality (47 percent) describe themselves as either “angry” or “disappointed” about the failure of the gun legislation, but 39 percent call themselves “relieved” or “happy” about what happened. That’s a far cry from the 90-ish percent support that expanding background checks — the centerpiece of the proposed legislation — enjoyed. And, among those who said they were “very closely” keeping tabs on the vote, the split was even closer; 48 percent said they were angry/disappointed while 47 percent were relieved or happy...The numbers suggest that the White House wound up losing the message fight over the gun legislation. Rather than a conversation centered on widely-popular measures supported by members of both parties, the debate — at least as people perceived it — became a wider referendum on the proper place for guns in society.
Pew/WaPo's question wording was fairly straightforward but didn't do opponents of the bill any favors. It asked, "as you may know, the U.S. Senate voted down new gun control legislation, including background checks on gun purchases. Which word best describes how you feel about the fact that this gun legislation did not pass?" This question specifically mentions background checks, for which some polls have measured support in the 90 percent range -- about which Congress was regularly reminded by proponents. And yet, what was the grand total of "angry" respondents? 15 percent. Fifteen. This cohort was outnumbered by people who were "very happy" that the bill died. A roughly equal percentage pronounced themselves "relieved" that nothing was done. The relatively modest plurality (32 percent) described their reaction as "disappointed." Disappointed people shake their heads, roll their eyes, and move on. They don't mount a tear-off calendar on their bedroom wall, counting down the days until the next general election.
So despite months of spending political capital and employing every demagogic trick in the book, Obama couldn't even muster a "disappointed/angry" majority when the bill fell through. In fact, only Democrats responded net-negatively (22/67); Republicans (51/34) and independents (48/41) were both narrowly net-positive. And according to Gallup, less than five percent of the public views gun policy as a top priority. The spread between positive and negative reactions was a pretty slim eight points, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the truly motivated single-issue voters were more likely to oppose new gun control measures than support them. Which is why vulnerable and red state Democrats sided with the GOP. Speaking of those Dems, Mike Bloomberg's gun group is weighing whether to go all-in to defeat them. Speaking as a conservative who's generally ambivalent on the gun issue, I have a message for Team Bloomberg: Please -- please -- go for it.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography