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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

In “The Real Reason America Doesn’t Have Gun Control,” Ronald Brownstein writes at The Atlantic that  “the stalemate over gun-control legislation since Bill Clinton’s first presidential term ultimately rests on a much deeper problem: the growing crisis of majority rule in American politics….Polls are clear that while Americans don’t believe gun control would solve all of the problems associated with gun violence, a commanding majority supports the central priorities of gun-control advocates, including universal background checks and an assault-weapons ban. Yet despite this overwhelming consensus, it’s highly unlikely that the massacre of at least 19 schoolchildren and two adults in Uvalde, Texas, yesterday, or President Joe Biden’s emotional plea for action last night, will result in legislative action….That’s because gun control is one of many issues in which majority opinion in the nation runs into the brick wall of a Senate rule—the filibuster—that provides a veto over national policy to a minority of the states, most of them small, largely rural, preponderantly white, and dominated by Republicans.” Further, “The disproportionate influence of small states has come to shape the competition for national power in America. Democrats have won the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections, something no party had done since the formation of the modern party system in 1828….According to calculations by Lee Drutman, a senior fellow in the political-reform program at New America, a center-left think tank, Senate Republicans have represented a majority of the U.S. population for only two years since 1980, if you assign half of each state’s population to each of its senators. But largely because of its commanding hold on smaller states, the GOP has controlled the Senate majority for 22 of those 42 years….The Pew polling found that significant majorities of Americans support background checks (81 percent), an assault-weapons ban (63 percent), and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines (64 percent); a majority also opposes concealed carry of weapons without a permit. Majorities of Republicans who don’t own guns shared those opinions, as did Democratic gun owners, by even more lopsided margins. Even most Republicans who do own guns said in the polling that they support background checks and oppose permitless concealed carry (which more red states, including Texas, are authorizing). Despite all of this, Republican elected officials, in their near-lockstep opposition to gun control, have bent to groups like the NRA in equating almost any restrictions as a sign of disrespect to the values of red America…..If there is any hope for congressional action on gun control in the aftermath of the Uvalde tragedy—or another mass shooting in the future—it almost certainly will require reform or elimination of the filibuster. Otherwise, the basic rules of American politics will continue to allow Republicans to impose their priorities even when a clear majority of Americans disagree. The hard truth is that there’s no way to confront America’s accelerating epidemic of gun violence without first addressing its systemic erosion of majority rule.”

Monique Beals reports that a “Majority in new poll favors stricter gun control measures” at The Hill: “A majority of Americans say Congress should pass gun control legislation, according to a new poll taken before Tuesday’s deadly shooting in Texas that left 19 children at an elementary school dead along with two teachers. Overall, 59 percent of respondents said it was “very” or “somewhat” important that elected leaders in the U.S. pass stricter gun control laws….Nine percent had no opinion or did not know, according to the poll from Morning Consult and Politico….The poll found that 34 percent said restrictions on gun ownership should be a top priority for Congress, while 22 percent said it should be an important but lower priority….Twenty-three percent said Congress should not put new restrictions on gun ownership while 14 percent said it was not too important but still a priority. Seven percent had no opinion….Thirty-five percent said it was most important for the federal government to focus on passing stricter gun control laws “to prevent more mass shootings.”…While the poll took place before the Texas killings, there were several other high-profile shootings that took place before the survey was conducted — a sign of how common such violence has become in American life…..Background checks have effectively blocked 4 million gun sales “to people prohibited by law from having guns,” according to Everytown for Gun Safety….Twenty-two percent of Americans reported that they purchased their most recent gun without any background check, the group added….The survey included 2,005 registered voters and had a margin of error of 2 percentage points. It was conducted May 20-22.”

Dylan Matthews explains “How gun ownership became a powerful political identity” at Vox: “The way the responses to the gun massacres over the past week and a half played out was about something deeper: the development of gun ownership into a powerful political identity, one that shapes national politics, even presidential politics, in a profound way….Over the course of the past four decades, though, gun ownership has firmly sorted along party lines. In a 2017 paper, University of Kansas political scientists Mark Joslyn, Don Haider-Markel, Michael Baggs, and Andrew Bilbo found that the correlation between owning a gun and presidential vote choice increased markedly from 1972 to 2012….This grounding of gun owners’ conservative politics in a deep social identity helps make them a potent base of political support for the NRA and other opponents of gun control. Gun owners are much likelier to report having contacted an elected official about the issue or donated to a pro-gun organization than are non-owners who support gun control….They’re also likelier to identify themselves as single-issue voters than gun control opponents are, and Republican gun owners are likelier to say their gun owner identity is important to them than Democratic gun owners….Gun ownership is a particularly powerful identity, even starting as early as childhood. “We found that growing up in a household where firearms were present and having a firearm in the home was a strong determinant of how dangerous people thought firearms were,”….Childhood exposure to guns is also a strong determinant of whether people keep firearms to this day….And gun control advocates’ views are also, in significant measure, culturally and identity-determined.” Donald Braman, a professor at George Washington University law school who holds a PhD in anthropology, with his Yale colleague Dan Kahan write “Cultural orientations have an impact on gun control attitudes that is over three times larger than being Catholic, over two times larger than fear of crime, and nearly four times larger than residing in the West.” Matthews concludes, “What no one seems to know is how to make the debate less about identity and more about evidence — or if such a move is even possible. It might be that the most we can hope for is an ever-escalating clash of identities that somehow results, against all odds, in sensible policy.”

NYT columnist Thomas B. Edsall probes psychological dimensions of political polarization, including ‘sorting,’ ideological and ‘affective’ polarization” and writes, “Today, even scholars of polarization are polarized.” He argues that “the issue is not the lack of an ideological and partisan electorate but the dominance of polarized elected officials and voters, some driven by conviction, others by a visceral dislike of the opposition, and still others by both.” edsall quotes Johns Hopkins political scientist Lilliana Mason, who has argued, “American identities are better than American opinions at explaining conflict.” Further, the “key factor underpinning growing polarization and the absence of moderate politicians….Most legislative polarization is already baking into the set of people who run for office,” Andrew Hall, a political scientist at Stanford, wrote in his book, “Who Wants to Run: How the Devaluing of Political Office Drives Polarization”: “Indeed, when we look at the ideological positions of who runs for the House, we see the set of all candidates — not just incumbents — has polarized markedly since 1980.”…This trend results from the fact that since “the winning candidate gets to influence ideological policies” in increasingly polarized legislatures and the Congress, “the ideological payoffs of running for office are not equal across the ideological spectrum.” As a result, “when costs of running for office are high or benefits of holding office are low, more moderate candidates are disproportionately less likely to run.”….In other words, polarization has created its own vicious circle, weeding out moderates, fostering extremists and constraining government action even in times of crisis.”

2 comments on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Victor on

    Mass shootings as a form of violent political expression are very unique to the United States and another symptom of polarization. This is not about crime, mental health or gun availability, but about tolerance to the use of violence for political purposes. Democrats should move away from mass gun control because it is neither viable nor necessary to address political violence.

  2. Victor on

    The only way to fix national political institutions to increase the weight of “one person, one vote” is to go along with a national political crisis (maybe the Senate doesn’t lift the debt ceiling). This strategy is incompatible with one of courting moderates based on political federalism.


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