Does the NRA really have political clout?


by David Safier

It's become almost a truism that if you're running for office, you don't mess with the NRA or it'll mess with your political career. But some people say it's not so.

This false media narrative of NRA's supposed influence on elections has persisted, even as an analysis by American Prospect contributing editor Paul Waldman (who previously worked for Media Matters) concluded that both NRA endorsements and campaign contributions have a negligible impact on elections. In a study of House races over four election cycles, Waldman determined that Republican incumbents did not receive a statistically significant advantage if endorsed by the NRA. The average campaign contribution of $2,500 to NRA-endorsed House candidates was also found to have insignificant impact on elections.

In 2012, 26 House members lost their seats. 18 got an NRA endorsement: 4 Ds and 14 Rs.

If the NRA preserves the illusion that it can make — and, more important, break — a politician's election chances, it can keep any kind of gun regulations off the table, even common sense ideas like banning automatic weapons and requiring background checks at gun shows. But if politicians get the idea the NRA is shooting blanks, gun laws return to the discussion.

[I can't resist arguing with myself here. It's possible that, because of NRA's perceived clout, everyone sings the praises of gun ownership, which means the organization has more trouble demonizing an "anti-second amendment candidate" and looks like it has little clout. If politicians were bolder about proposing gun regulations, it may be the NRA would be able to mount strong campaigns against them, demonstrating the group's clout. There's a little bit of chicken-egg confusion here.]