Public Not Very Outraged By Defeat Of Background Checks Bill

The Senate's rejection of the Manchin/Toomey background checks bill isn't particularly outraging the general public, according to a new poll.

Gun Flag

After last weeks defeat of the Manchin/Toomey background checks bill, President Obama took to the White House Rose Garden along with Vice-President Biden and several of the parents of victims from the Newtown shooting and urged Americans to hold the Senators who had voted against the bill accountable by letting them know how angry they are about the vote. As I noted at the time, it seemed unlikely that the vote itself would have much of an adverse political impact for the Senators who voted no, in no small part because gun control has traditionally been a “high support/low intensity” issue for voters. Based on the first round of polling that has come out since last weeks vote, it would seem that the American public does not share the Presidents anger over the vote, meaning that it is likely going to be difficult for Democrats to capitalize on the vote politically in 2014 or beyond.

First up, Chris Cillizza points to a new poll conducted by The Washington Post and the Pew Research Center that shows a mostly muted reaction from the public to the defeat of Manchin/Toomey:

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. (That piece of data is indicative of the passion gap on the issue between those supporting gun rights and those pushing for more restrictions.)

Viewed broadly, the new Post-Pew poll numbers suggest that, in the end, the Senate vote last week wound up functioning in the minds of most Americans as a sort of stand-in for how they feel about gun rights more generally as opposed to the specifics (background checks in particular) of the legislation.

So, not surprisingly, those who were most angry about the failure of the gun bill were reliably Democratic groups such as those with postgraduate degrees and those living in the Northeast.

Ditto those who described themselves as “very happy” about the collapse of the legislation. Three in 10 Republicans put themselves in that category, as did one in four whites without college degrees.

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.

Reading into the poll itself, there doesn’t seem to be much difference in reaction to the vote based on where a respondent lives and how their Senators voted:

In the 21 states where both senators supported the legislation, including California, New York and Illinois, 51% say they are either angry or disappointed that the legislation failed, while 38% are very happy or relieved about the outcome. Just 16% of people in these states say they are angry the legislation was voted down, while 35% are simply disappointed.

In the 13 states where one senator voted in favor and one voted against the bill, such as Florida, Ohio and Arizona, the overall balance of opinion is similar: 49% say they are angry or disappointed, 36% very happy or relieved.

Reactions to the Senate vote are more positive in states represented by two senators who both voted against the legislation. In the 16 states where both senators voted against the legislation, such as Texas, Georgia and Tennessee, 46% say they are very happy or relieved that the bill did not pass; 37% say they are angry or disappointed.

In other words, you could say that the Senate vote was in some way a reflection of how their constituents felt. The states where both Senators voted for the bill are, by and large, solidly Democratic states so it makes sense that voters there would be slightly more upset about the defeat of the bill than the rest of the nation. The states where the votes were split are many of the so-called “purple” states such as Virginia and Ohio, and the reaction there pretty much mirrors the nation as a whole. Finally, the states where both Senators voted against the bill are all solidly Republican and, not surprisingly, in those states voters tend to be happy that the bill failed. That suggests that, to a larger degree than the proponents of gun control might be willing to admit, that the Senators who voted against the bill were reflecting the expressed preferences of their constituents rather than just kowtowing to some lobbying group. Indeed, Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota reported that the calls to her Washington, D.C. and District offices were overwhelmingly opposed to the Manchin/Toomey bill, a reflection that opponents of the bill were far more passionate about it than the supporters.

Elspeth Reeve finds more data in the poll numbers:

[A] closer look at that 47 percent — yes, it’s that number again — who are disappointed or angry shows why it’s going to be difficult to turn even that much outrage into electoral consequences for filibustering senators. First, who’s mad about the bill’s failure? According to the poll, 67 percent of Democrats said they are “angry.” They are also postgrads (31 percent), followed by people in the Northeast (26 percent). A fifth of women say they’re angry. And then take a look at who’s on the other side and “very happy” the legislation died: 29 percent of Republicans, 28 percent of people from the West, and 26 percent of independents and white people without a college education.

That’s a sizeable portion of the “swing” voter population out there, and a suggestion that this issue isn’t nearly as cut and dry politically as gun control advocates would like to think.  Because of the intensity issue that I’ve discussed before, here and here, it’s fairly clear that a vote against the bill wasn’t necessarily as big a political risk for Senators as many commentators have tried to make out over the past week. This is especially true, I’d argue, in the red states where most of the “no” votes came from.

Greg Sargent, who supported the bill makes this observation:

So more Americans nationally reacted negatively to the vote (47) than positively (39). On the other hand, this is well out of sync with the 90 percent who support expanded background checks, and negligible numbers on either side have intense feelings about the vote — showing, again, that gun violence may not be a motivating issue. I’d caution against reading too much into this, however. Pew’s numbers may be influenced by the use of “gun control” in its question wording, and many recent polls still show overwhelming support for expanding background checks when respondents are asked specifically about this idea. Still, it remains unclear whether there’s any political penalty to be paid for opposing them.


[The poll numbers] don’t tell us whether an intensity gap persists in these states, in which partisans on the right do more to organize, lobby Senators, and donate money than partisans on the left do, which has historically been the case. This is something  Mike Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns — and liberal groups — are hoping to change by building a long term pressure infrastructure.

Whether such a political campaign can actually get voters to become more “single issue” voters when it comes to gun control remains to be seen. As I’ve said before, most voters tend to base their vote on a large number of factors so it’s hard to see any campaign to get them to essentially ignore those other issues in favor of something that has been historically low intensity like gun control seems unlikely to succeed to me. Besides, you can rest assured that any campaign by Bloomberg and others in favor of gun control will be countered by others from gun rights advocates. Indeed the two campaigns likely would end up canceling each other out in terms of the impact they’ll haveon the election. For the moment, though, it doesn’t seem as though the rejection of Manchin/Toomey is going to have a significant negative impact in the 2014 elections.

FILED UNDER: Guns and Gun Control, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Jack says:

    This just goes to show that the “90%” meme was a lie to begin with.

  2. CSK says:

    If anyone is likely to become a single issue voter on this issue, it would be far more likely to be someone on the far right to who regards any kind of background check, licensing, or registration of firearms as a violation of the Second Amendment.

  3. Caj says:

    If that’s the case then shame on them! Still, it wasn’t their child or family member that was riddled with bullets was it? It might be a very different story had that been the case I’m sure!! What a sick bunch of selfish uncaring people we have in society?

  4. PD Shaw says:

    The most important number in the poll were independents:

    Very Happy/Relieve: 48%
    Dissapointed/Angry: 41%

  5. stonetools says:

    Doug, you might want to check:

    Ayotte faces backlash over gun vote

    Gun show background checks are pretty universally popular in New Hampshire…and Kelly Ayotte is facing some serious backlash from voters in the state for voting against them last week.

    Ayotte now has a negative approval rating with 44% of voters giving her good marks and 46% disapproving. That’s down a net 15 points from the last time we polled on her, in October, when she had a 48% approval with 35% disapproving. 75% of New Hampshire voters- including 95% of Democrats, 74% of independents, and 56% of Republicans- say they support background checks. And 50% of voters in the state say Ayotte’s ‘no’ vote will make them less likely to support her in a future election, compared to just 23% who consider it to be a positive.

    Ayotte won her seat in 2010 by 23 points. But in a very early hypothetical match up between her and new Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan, she trails by a 46/44 margin. This issue is really giving her some trouble.

    Here’s hoping the Tea Party darling goes down hard on this.

  6. Jack says:

    @Caj: Shame on this guy!

    Still, it wasn’t [his] child or family member that was riddled with bullets was it? It might be a very different story had that been the case I’m sure!! What a sick bunch of selfish uncaring people we have in society

    Oops, wait a minute…

  7. al-Ameda says:

    Well, 2 seemingly disparate facts can be true at the same time:

    (1) that 90% of the people supported background checks, and

    (2) people do not particularly care that the Senate, which no longer passes legislation with simple majorities, did not pass a bill with sensible background checks.

    The public, generally, can walk and chew gum at the same time.

  8. meaning that it is likely going to be difficult for Democrats to capitalize on the vote politically in 2014 or beyond

    At the federal level…..

    Watch the states, especially the ones with major metro areas. Republicans from low population, mostly rural states will find it harder to influence the agenda. See Colorado, new gun laws of.

  9. stonetools says:

    Also too, there are 17Republican House Seats in districts won by Obama. Yeah, the House did not vote on this, but REPUBLICANS voted to kill the bill, for the most part. OFA, do your stuff!

  10. PD Shaw says:

    @stonetools: “Gun show background checks are pretty universally popular in New Hampshire”

    Yet, New Hampshire does not appear to have passed laws to actually close the gun show loophole in their state.

    Looking at the poll results:

    50% of voters said Ayotte’s vote against background checks legislation would make them less likely to support her for re-election, including 79% of Democrats, 50% of independents and 17% of Republicans. 25% said it doesn’t make a difference and just 23% said it made them more likely to support her.

    That looks to me like a wash that PPP is trying to oversell.

  11. JKB says:


    Perhaps you are unaware that even the gun controllers admitted, the bill would have done nothing to stop shootings like Newtown or Aurora.

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):
    See Colorado, economic consequences of…
    And perhaps, Colorado, election consequences of…

  12. @PD Shaw:

    That looks to me like a wash that PPP is trying to oversell.

    Twice as many people say “less likely” than “more likely” and that’s a wash to you?

  13. PD Shaw says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    PPP says she is facing a backlash because of her gun vote

    50% say they are more likely to vote against her
    48% say they are more likely to vote for her or don’t care

    That’s within the margin of error. Her job approval problems appear to stem from somewhere else.

  14. Caj says:


    That’s the lame excuse used every time! Nothing would have saved those people. So much easier to do nothing and let the slaughter continue because gun obsessed people demand more and more guns no matter what kind they are with absolutely no limits on bullets. I’d like all those to stand face to face with the parents of those 20 dead children and tell them nothing would have helped. That’s just a sorry excuse that will be used over and over an over. Guns before lives! What a vulgar choice to make! It’s a disgusting one in my book.

  15. Septimius says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Also, a significant portion of the 50% who are more likely to vote against her are hardcore Democrats who would have never voted for her anyway.

  16. stonetools says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    Hey, for him and most gun nut folks, a “wash” is exactly what they say it is.Also too, conservatives generally aren’t friends of maths, science , and statistics. Remember the whole poll skewing nonsense of the 2012 elections?
    Its early days yet, but the fledging pro-gun safety organizations could very well have an impact on future elections. Until now, the NRA had the field to themselves. But some new players have entered the arena. Right now, they aren’t much compared to the entrenched gun lobby, with their army of would be action heroes obsessing about “gun grabbers” and the UN. But they have 18 months to , grow, fundraise, stategize, and target. You can do a lot in that time

  17. @JKB:

    See Colorado, economic consequences of…
    And perhaps, Colorado, election consequences of…

    Don’t make me laugh….

    Economic consequences for the state? Or Magpul Industries? How much “pull” you think that company really has? Or are we still talking about the hunter’s boycott?

    The thing about making threats is that they don’t really work if there’s no fear.

    And no, we’re not worried about “election consequences.” We’re a blue state. Our population is mostly urban, with the exception of the mountains and the plains, but almost nobody lives on the plains. You know who lives up in the mountains? Rich people. Rich Hollywood people.

    Tom Tancredo still lives here, though…..So yeah, there’s a chance uncompromising right-wingers will prevail. I just wouldn’t bet on it.

  18. PD Shaw says:

    @stonetools: Idiot.

  19. @PD Shaw: Cute trick.

    50% say they are more likely to vote against her
    48% say they are more likely to vote for her or don’t care

    “Don’t Care” and “more likely” are two different things. I can do it too if I ignore math, logic, and reason. Watch:

    75% are less likely to vote for her or don’t care
    23% are more likely to vote for her.

    The thing is the “don’t care” guys don’t get to be added to whatever group you want. They get removed. They don’t care. So we’re left with 50% “less likely” and 23% “more likely.”

    That is no wash. Math….you’re not doing it right.

  20. stonetools says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Well, I certainly hope Ms. Ayotte’s strategists agree with your assessment of how her anti-background check vote didn’t hurt her. If they believe such votes are hunky-dory ,let her make more of them! Maybe you, her and the Unskewed Poll guys can have a get together before her next election and discuss how 23 per cent is the new >50 per cent. Should make for an interesting discussion.

  21. anjin-san says:

    @ Caj

    JKB pretty much repeats the GOP party line. America can’t have decent health care, it can’t have decent infrastructure, and it can’t stop the slaughter of it’s own citizens.

  22. Septimius says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    Um, no. A backlash (as PPP claims Ayotte is facing) would mean that Ayotte is facing negative consequences due to her vote on the background check amendment. Don’t care means that they don’t care how she voted, therefore, no negative consequences. It is proper to include that figure with those who are more likely to vote for her.

  23. @Septimius: Oh, I see….we’re not talking about the poll results then. We’re discussing the proper definition of “backlash.”

    Okay then….

    In a recent poll, twice as many people said her vote would make them “less likely” to vote for her. You’re right. It’s definitely NOT a backlash……..

  24. stonetools says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    Hey, let these guys keep their illusions. We saw where their great math and polling skills led them in 2012, let’s have them do it again. I want. Ms. Ayotte to keep on voting against background checks, SSM , and otherwise follow the whole Tea Party agenda. Why , her job approval ratings in NH can only improve.
    Also, too, Benghazi. She hasn’t mentioned Benghazi in a while. Yeah, that’s the ticket…

  25. Tyrell says:

    Why should people get excited or upset over defeat of a new law that is already a law?

  26. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Caj: That’s the lame excuse used every time! Nothing would have saved those people. So much easier to do nothing and let the slaughter continue because gun obsessed people demand more and more guns no matter what kind they are with absolutely no limits on bullets.

    So… in response to a horrific event, you want to pass a law that 1) wouldn’t have prevented the event in the slightest, and 2) wouldn’t prevent similar events in the future.

    So, apart from the desperate urge to be seen like you’re like totally compassionate and caring and righteous, why are you pushing this measure?

  27. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @stonetools: OFA, do your stuff!

    Ah, OFA. The supposedly “non-partisan,” “independent” group that operates that is currently collecting e-mail addresses for its mailing lists off the Boston bombing. Yeah, let’s cheer them on!

  28. stonetools says:


    Reading, you’re doing it wrong.

  29. stonetools says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Who said that OFA was “non-partisan?” They’ve never claimed to be that, AFAIK. They’ve always been clear that they are dedicated to electing Democrats. I think you got your organizations mixed up.

  30. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: “Ah, OFA. The supposedly “non-partisan,” “independent” group”

    And since when did OFA become non-partisan? Oh right, since Jenos had to make up some BS in order to be able to peddle his nonsense.

  31. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @wr: It’s remarkable: every time I think you’ve shown that you’re as dumb as humanly possible, you go and prove me wrong by being even dumber.

    Perhaps you should take OFA’s status with OFA leader Jim Messina:

    This time will be different, Messina said during a March 26 Bloomberg Government luncheon in Washington.

    While the first OFA was housed inside the Democratic National Committee, the new group is “nonpartisan” and independent, organized as a nonprofit that is free of campaign- finance limitations on the size of donations. And Messina said the organization will focus its volunteer force more on local issues — such as gay-marriage legislation in Illinois — as well as federal legislative campaigns in order to enrich its member relationships and interactions.

    A normal human would apologize, or at least admit error. So please, double down on your stupid. Don’t disappoint me.

  32. PD Shaw says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb): Its not math we disagree on; I find your addition commendable. We disagree on interpreting the numbers.

    Opinions on her gun vote are not randomly distributed; Most of the people less likely to vote for her are Democrats.

    And let me pull the actual PPP quote: “There’s serious backlash from voters toward Kelly
    Ayotte for how she handled this issue.”

  33. @Jenos Idanian #13:

    A normal human would apologize, or at least admit error.

    Wow….If those quotation marks didn’t give you a clue, nothing will…..

  34. stonetools says:

    I think Messina mean “nonpartisan” for tax purposes, the way Karl Rove ” Croossroads” group was “non partisan” for tax purposes too. But hey, if I am wrong on that, then sobeit.

  35. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Hey Stupid,

    The stated purpose of OFA is to build support for Obama’s policies. Maybe you think this makes them a Republican organization. Or maybe you’ll cherry-pick whatever quote you think makes your BS case, knowing that you’ll run away like a scared rabbit as soon as anyone calls you on it.

    I’d say you’re not fooling anyone but yourself, but I can’t believe even you are that dumb.

  36. wr says:

    @stonetools: “But hey, if I am wrong on that, then sobeit. ”

    There are two possibilities here:

    A) You are wrong.

    B) Jenos is lying.

    You may choose which you feel is more likely.

  37. @PD Shaw:

    Opinions on her gun vote are not randomly distributed;

    Agreed, 100%.

    Most of the people less likely to vote for her are Democrats.

    Also true.

    And yet, that same poll shows that 17% of the “less likely” group are Republicans. Remember, the “less likely” group is twice as big as the “more likely” group.

  38. stonetools says:

    Reading the article jenos referred to, thebad thing (and maybe the good thing ) is how young and miniscule the pro-gun safety organizations were arrtayed againbst the might of the NRA. Clearly, there is a lot of room for growth. That said, a majority of Senators did vote for the legislation. They wil do better next time, and God willing, they won’t have to surmount the 60 vote filibuster threshold.
    AS for Kelly Ayote, my hope is that they make her pay for her vote. They’ve got three years to build to that.

  39. There is no such thing as universal background checks. There will always be exceptions for family and private transfers. Once people realize that inevitability they lose their ardor for any bill that goods forward. I wish the pollsters would stop polling on Obama’s using Obama and the hard lefts misleading language.

  40. Jc says:

    Politics of fear wins again. Expanding background checks would have eventually led us to a communist government controlled state where all guns have been seized blah, blah…because we say that is what will happen. Any new gun law is bad mentality is now the new norm, you want some sensible gun laws, you are an unpatrotic slime, sad. I wish we could dig up all our founding fathers and have them debate this issue, did they mean absolute gun ownership for all? Would they feel the same way seeing our superior standing army and military might, you know, the other thing they feared, well, after having their guns taken from their cold dead hands! Whatever…nobody in DC is serious, hence nothing polls seriously anymore

  41. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @stonetools: Reading the article jenos referred to, thebad thing (and maybe the good thing ) is how young and miniscule the pro-gun safety organizations were arrtayed againbst the might of the NRA.

    Bloomberg alone spent just as much money pushing gun control as the NRA spent opposing it.

    Toss in the Brady Foundation people, the Giffords gun control efforts, and all those other groups, and suddenly the money picture seems a lot closer to equal.

  42. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @wr: Here’s some free advice, dude: just. give. it. up.

    I said that OFA called itself “nonpartisan.”

    You said I was lying.

    I linked to one of the leaders of OFA using that precise word to describe his group.

    And from their own website,

    Obama for America was the re-election committee of the President while OFA is a nonprofit nonpartisan organization not involved in electoral activity.

    But back to the point: OFA is using the Boston bombing to collect e-mail addresses to use in fundraising.

    So that’s what OFA is doing instead of trying to push the gun-grabbing agenda.

  43. matt bernius says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    For the record, OFA became a 501c4 — which means it’s “independent” and “non-partisan” in the same way that Crossroads for America [aka Crossroads GPS], Carl Rove’s 501c4 is “non-partisan” and “independent.”

    So, if you’re going to suggest/intone that OFA is an extension of the Democratic party, then it seems like you should also accept that Crossroads is an extension of the Republican party.

    BTW, this is the issue that many people — myself included — have had with 501c4’s from the beginning.

  44. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: “I said that OFA called itself “nonpartisan.” You said I was lying.”

    Actually, you’re lying now. What you said was “the supposedly non-partisan OFA.”

    Strongly implying, of course, that they were disingenuously trying to hide their advocacy for Obama’s agenda. When in fact they are “non-partisan” for tax reasons, in the same way as Crossroads USA, as has been pointed out.

    So as usual you use insinuations of dishonesty from others to support whatever moron point you were trying to make about how evil liberals are. Then to make yourself look better you deliberately misquoted yourself, apparently convinced that no one else in the universe had your amazing power of scrolling up through a thread.

    Now you’ll whine about how people are mean to you, how you were trying to have a civilized conversation and were making an honest point… and the world will yawn.

  45. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @wr: So, as long as we mean the term “partisan” in only the way you want it to mean, when you want it to mean it, I’m lying?

    How long have you had these delusions of adequacy?

    And how far are you willing to go to avoid my main point — that OFA is using the Boston bombing to collect e-mail addresses for fundraising?

    Or even the primary point — that enough of the public saw that the proposed gun law was, at best, worthless and, at worst, a gun-grabbing scheme, and helped kill it?