Explaining Democratic victories: It’s gun violence, stupid

Explaining Democratic victories: It’s gun violence, stupid
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Tuesday’s elections delivered important victories for Democrats and sent a sobering message to Republicans a year out from the 2018 midterm election. The election in Virginia, especially, represents an early indication of the growing importance among key voters of a critical issue: gun violence, and our elected leaders’ unwillingness to do anything about it. As the election results showed, suburban voters, in particular, revolted against Republicans on Election Day, and gun violence is one of the chief reasons why.

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Governor-elect Ralph Northam enthusiastically embraced a gun violence prevention platform, campaigned with leading gun violence prevention advocates, and touted his NRA F-rating. Even the NRA-backed Republican candidate Ed Gillespie recognized the perils of being seen by suburban voters as weak on gun safety and released multiple ads in Northern Virginia claiming that Northam had made it easier for violent felons and sex offenders to gain access to guns. As a pollster, it’s clear to me that Gillespie had data showing that his poor record on gun violence prevention was a vulnerability.

Exit polls from Tuesday showed just how important this issue has become: Guns were the second most important issue to voters overall. Among voters who said guns were the most important issue, an equal number voted for Northam and Gillespie, suggesting that the “enthusiasm gap” has officially closed between gun violence prevention supporters and those in favor of doing nothing, or worse, loosening gun laws.

This is significant. For years, the NRA has spent big in competitive races, investing in candidates who will vote in lock-step with their agenda. And many times, candidates fell in line — fearing the outsized voice and activism of the NRA’s most ardent supporters. The NRA tried to do the same thing in its home state of Virginia this year, spending several million dollars on Republican statewide races. But this time, they failed.

It has been widely reported, and the data indicates, that college educated voters in suburban districts will be the key to Democrats taking back the House in 2018. And it was in precisely these districts where gun violence prevention organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords targeted voters with a gun safety message. As Tuesday’s election results show, this key demographic ended up voting disproportionately for Democrats at rates above historical precedence.  

Since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook School, the politics of gun violence prevention have shifted with voters paying closer attention to candidates’ record on gun safety. And the increased role gun violence prevention has played in elections is not without consequences.

It is a sobering lesson for Representative Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockDemocrats can kiss swing voters goodbye with progressive ballot The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Dramatic battle looms after Kennedy’s retirement Election Countdown: Kennedy retirement shakes up midterms | Big primary night for progressives | Fallout from Crowley's defeat | Trump flexes his muscles in GOP primaries | The Hill's Latina Leaders spotlights 2018 candidates MORE in the 10th district of Virginia and for Congressional Republicans in suburban districts around the country. Just ask Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteNew Hampshire governor signs controversial voting bill Former Arizona senator to shepherd Supreme Court nominee through confirmation process Shut the back door to America's opioid epidemic MORE, the Senator from New Hampshire who lost her seat in 2016 after voting against universal background checks whether or not voting with the gun lobby has serious political repercussions.

Following Tuesday’s elections, it’s easy — sometimes too easy — to use these Democratic wins as a proxy for 2018: As we all know, a lot can happen in a year. What is clear is that in the face of multiple mass shootings and the ongoing scourge of day-to-day gun violence unseen in any other developed country, most congressional Republicans have done nothing to address this crisis. And increasingly — finally — they are paying for their inaction.

With federal legislation like the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act and gutting silencer safety laws on the table — dangerous proposals that will only weaken the painfully inadequate laws we have now — it’s clear that the issue of guns is not going away anytime soon.

Yet as Virginia indicates, voters will be watching closely and casting their ballot accordingly.

Jefrey Pollock is the president of Global Strategy Group and has been recognized twice as the Pollster of the Year from the American Association of Political Consultants.