Is the NRA's Electoral Power a Myth?

We all know that the National Rifle Association is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, interest group in Washington. With their money and their committed supporters, they can carry candidates to victory or defeat as they choose, just as they've done in the past. Right? Well, maybe not. I'm doing a series of posts for Think Progress based on research I've done trying to address the question of the NRA's electoral effectiveness in a systematic way, something that has rarely been attempted before. Here's an excerpt from the first installment:

To determine just how powerful the NRA really is on election day, in recent months I assembled a database covering the last four federal elections: 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010. These years cover two presidential and non-presidential years, as well as two significant Democratic victories and two significant Republican victories. I gathered data on the outcome of every House and Senate election, including the margins of victory, the money spent by each candidate, the partisan character of each district, and whether the NRA made an endorsement in the race and how much money they spent.

The conclusion to be drawn from these data will be surprising to many: The NRA has virtually no impact on congressional elections. The NRA endorsement, so coveted by so many politicians, is almost meaningless. Nor does the money the organization spends have any demonstrable impact on the outcome of races. In short, when it comes to elections, the NRA is a paper tiger.

Provocative! There will be three more installments in the coming days; stay tuned.


I haven't examined the data, but I would make a couple of observations.

You should ask former Speaker of the House Tom Foley if the NRA's opposition is toothless, He was turned out of office for failing to stop a vote on the assault weapons ban. His Spokane, Washington district had been safely Democratic for a very long time prior to his loss. He attributed his loss solely to NRA opposition.

Second, there is a reason the endorsement of the NRA is valued: it keeps the local members from coming after a representative at town halls and other district events. I'm told that can be a very unpleasant experience and the upshot is often a career changer.

Finally, the membership of the NRA are cantankerous, vocal and persistent, and they do vote in very high numbers, often on the single issue of Second Amendment rights.

I'll cut to the chase. The good news for those who want gun control is that the U.S. Congress isn't afraid of the NRA. The bad news is that our representatives are voting pro-gun because they, and their constituents, agree with the NRA.

You need to be logged in to comment.
(If there's one thing we know about comment trolls, it's that they're lazy)