Margin of Σrror

Margin of Σrror -

The Manchin-Toomey gun law defeat heralds trouble for Senate Democrats | Harry J Enten

Demographic shifts in the US, with Democratic support concentrated in big cities, are driving ever more partisan politics

On Wednesday, the United States Senate defeated the Manchin-Toomey proposal on background checks. The defeat was a setback for gun control advocates, though it should not have come as a surprise. The defeat with a manifestation of growing problem for Democrats: their coalition is bad for winning many seats in the Senate, so it’s bad for passing legislation, too.

Each state, regardless of size, gets two senators. The least populous state, Wyoming, at 576,000 residents, has two senators, as does the most populous state, California, at 38 million. These less populated states tend be mostly rural. The more populated states like California gain their population because of large cities.

The issue is that Democratic voters tend to congregate in larger cities. Per the 2012 exit polls, President Obama won cities with populations over 500,000 (or cities with populations about the size of all of Wyoming) by 40pt. They won cities with a population of between 50,000-500,000 by a still impressive 18pt. They lost the suburbs by 2pt, cities with populations between 10,000 and 50,000 by 14pt, and rural areas by an astounding 24pt.

Indeed, look at a key part of the Democratic coalition: Latinos. Forty-five percent of Latinos live in the ten largest metropolitan areas. Obama won 12 out of the 16 top states with the largest Latino population. Latinos have helped to solidify the Democratic hold on what was once the swing state of California with 38% of the state’s population – far greater than the national average of 16.3%. Forty-one states, however, have a Latino population at a lower proportion than the nation’s 16.3%; 33 have a population that is less than 10% Latino.

So, how did this manifest itself on the state level?

President Obama won a 7.3pt victory in 2008, yet only carried 28 states. Four years prior, President Bush won only a 2.5pt victory and carried 31 states. Eight years prior to that, in 1996, President Clinton won by 8.5pt and took 31 states. George HW Bush emerged victorious by 7.7pt and won 40 states. That’s right: GHW Bush’s national margin was about the same as Obama’s was 20 years later, but he took 12 more states.

Democrats have tended to win fewer states than Republicans given the same national vote victory, but it’s become worse. To win 30 states in the 2012 election, Obama would have needed to carry the national vote by about 9pt more than he did. He lost Arizona by 9pt, even as he won nationally by 3.9pt. It would have taken a true landslide for Obama to have won by 13pt nationally.

Twenty years ago, this concentration of Democratic strength might not have been too big of a deal, in terms of Senate representation. As I noted back in December, 49% of the Democrat’s 1993 senate caucus came from states that were more Republican the nation as a whole in the prior presidential election. Today, that percentage has been cut in half to only 25%.

When you combine the fact that Democratic presidential nominees are winning fewer states with the fact that there is more straight ticket-voting, the Democrats have a major problem on their hands. It’s simply going to get harder here on in to win a Senate majority, let alone a super-majority of 60 seats, which a party really needs to overcome the growing use of the filibuster.

The Democrats who are in “red” states recognize this fact and you saw it this week in the gun ownership background checks amendment vote. The four Democrats who bucked their party line were from states more Republican than the nation as a whole in the last presidential election. Three of the four are up for re-election in 2014. Of the red state Democrats running for re-election in 2014, three of five voted against the Manchin-Toomey compromise.

Just as bad for Democratic legislation is that there are no Republicans out there willing to compromise. Only 16% of the Republican Senate caucus comes from states where Obama won by a greater percentage than he won nationally. The percentage of blue state Republicans is also down by about half from the 28% it stood at after the 1992 elections. The Republicans who are elected now come from red states and just have no electoral need to compromise. If anything, they’re more fearful of a primary challenge from a stricter conservative.

Only one Republican from a red state, John McCain, voted for Manchin-Toomey. The other three were all from states that were more Democratic than the nation as a whole. The bill’s co-sponsor Pat Toomey, who is no liberal, likely benefitted from the politics of being on board with a bill that is popular in his home state of Pennsylvania.

None of this means that Democrats won’t get back to 60 seats, or can’t bring Republicans on board, in the future. It just means that it’s just much harder than it used to be and will get harder still. The current Democratic coalition is concentrated in a few states, which has resulted in fewer states being Democratic on the national level. Combine this with less split-ticket voting between presidential and congressional races, and it’s bad news for Democrats in getting proposals through the Senate.

The immediate result was the failure of Manchin-Toomey – an event that I expect to be repeated with much future Democratic legislation. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Why the bully pulpit is Obama’s only hope for gun control | Harry J Enten

With public will waning, the president’s paradox is that making gun control his issue is divisive but nothing gets done otherwise

President Obama tried to breathe new life into his stalled gun control agenda on Thursday, but will he have any impact? He may not have a choice: it looks like some kind of action on his part is the only hope for reform.

Over the past few weeks, the percentage of Americans favoring new gun control regulations have dropped across the board. Fox News polling saw support for background checks with new gun purchases fall by 6pt, to 85%; mental health checks by 11pt, to 72%; new ammunition limits by 10pt, to 70%; high-capacity magazines bans by 2pt, to 54%; armed guards in schools by 9pt, to 51%; and assault weapons bans by 3pt, to 51%. 

The good news for those favoring tighter gun control is that most of the specific proposals still have majority support. Background checks, the center of the White House’s gun control package, still have 85%, per Fox News; and 90%, per CBS News. Even the long-doomed ban on assault weapons is at 51% and 49%, per Fox and CBS, respectively.

Of course, the issue has always been that any gun control package presented by the president would ultimately become polarized along party lines. That is, people may support specific measures in theory, but they’ll disagree as soon as it becomes “President Obama’s gun control plan”.

We haven’t had any polls attach Obama’s name to gun control questions in the past few weeks. We have had broader gun control questions, though, that generally matched Obama’s past proposals. I also feel these broader questions do a better job measuring the public will on gun control legislation.

The drops in support for strong, broad gun control measures have been dramatic. CBS found the percentage of Americans who want stricter regulations fell from 57%, immediately following Newtown, to 47% now. And 50% of Americans saw no need for stricter regulations, or preferred, in fact, loosening gun restrictions.

Only 43% of Americans said that they wanted to put major restrictions on gun ownership or make them illegal, in the latest CNN/ORC poll. That’s down from 52% post Newtown. Meanwhile, the percentage who wants only minor or no restrictions is at 55% – the highest percentage ever measured by CNN/ORC.

What happened here?

Part of it, no doubt, is that President Obama’s overall popularity has dropped off in recent weeks. I noted previously that his overall approval was highly correlated with support for his gun control package. That’s why you see red state Democrats hesitant to get behind background checks, even as they poll at astronomical levels.

The other cause is that gun control has left the news. As I spoke about previously, the spike in support for tighter gun control after Newtown was reminiscent of trends after the Columbine massacre. These two gun tragedies were unlike others, such as the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting, because they became remained top news stories  or some time, and were thus able to enter the public consciousness.

Eventually, however, Columbine received less and less news coverage, and the polling bump faded. We can check for the same pattern with the Newtown shootings by searching the News Library archive, which tracks newspapers and television transcripts.

In the month following the Newtown tragedy, the phrase “gun control” was mentioned 23,484 times. In the second month, it actually climbed slightly to 23,506. During March, through Wednesday, the number dropped to only 9,238. Now, that’s still much higher than the 1,243 mentions in the month prior to Newtown, but you don’t have to be a statistician to see the downward trajectory.

The president can help gun control reenter the news, and thus the minds of Americans. Danny Hayes found that in the week following the president’s initial announcement of his plans, the press mentioned gun control twice as much as previously. During that same period, the percentage of Americans who wanted tighter gun control barely strayed from the post-Newtown high. 

One might expect that a similar news spike and rebounding of support for stricter gun control can happen, given President Obama’s new push. 

This not to say that the president can convince the American public of something that they don’t believe. What he can do, according to research by Brandice Canes-Wrone on budget issues, is take stalled, popular proposals, and create a campaign issue out of them, thus convincing Congress to act. Background checks are, as Mark Blumenthal pointed out, the perfect example of a policy that is massively popular – and going nowhere in Congress.

We already see Democratic donors and grassroots organizations following Obama’s lead, and trying to turn background checks into a campaign issue. As reported by Greg Sargent, top Democratic donor Kenneth Lerer won’t give money to Democrats who don’t back gun control. The Daily Kos’ Markos Moulitsas followed up this report by hoping:

“It is a start of a trend. Too many big liberal voters have given to the party and candidates uncritically in the past.”

Of course, this could all easily fail. The president could simply polarize the debate even more. This campaign may make red state Democrats even more squeamish, and will almost certainly make the Republican-controlled House even less likely to move towards more regulation.

But right now, the issue is already polarized. Gun control has gone nowhere in Congress, while the president was saying little. Nationally, public will on the issue is fading. The situation for gun control advocates could hardly be worse, in fact.

The flipside, though, is that by speaking, Obama can engage and activate a public that is still firmly in favor of background checks. He just might be able to change the dynamic and make politicians recognize that, politically, they are on the wrong side of the issue. Thursday’s speech was a start, but it’s all uphill from here on. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Americans want gun control, but not badly enough | Harry J Enten

Gun rights advocates know that, despite Newtown, the US public is only lukewarm about gun laws – and is cooling all the time

After a month of reported congressional movement on gun control, negotiations have apparently hit a snag. Democratic senators have decided to break up proposals into different packages – such as Senator Dianne Feinstein’s push for an assault weapons ban – instead of presenting one “Obama gun package”. And, unsurprisingly, Republicans and Democrats can’t seem to agree on what parts should make up a background check bill.

On the surface, this seems like Washington dysfunction at its worst, especially since the percentage of Americans who want tougher gun control has stayed at its post-Newtown high: a majority still wants a ban on assault weapons, although legislation on that has pretty nearly no chance of passing through Congress. Over 80% of Americans do agree on universal background checks, including a majority of Republicans.

But a deeper look at the numbers suggests that gun rights advocates may be playing a stronger hand than at first glance.

1. Most Americans don’t see gun control as the most significant way to prevent mass shootings

Per a Public Religion Research Institute poll, only 25% of Americans believe that stricter gun control laws and enforcement would be the key to preventing massacres. That was second to mental health screenings, at 30%, and just ahead of moral and religious teaching, at 20%.

Even when we expand the issue out to allow for multiple answers, as CBS News did, only 21% think that stricter gun control would prevent gun violence by much. Almost half, 46%, think mental health screening would help a lot, while 36% think armed guards in public places would be most useful.

2. Guns as a whole are not at the forefront of issues for most Americans

Only 4% of Americans listed guns as the most important problem facing the country in the latest CBS News poll. Instead, over 50% chose the economy, jobs or the budget deficit. That matches other recent polling, and the recent focus on the sequestration illustrates this data.

You might say, “Of course, the economy is the No 1 issue for Americans – how could gun control come close?” And I’d agree: if gun control were really at the top of the heap, I’d expect it to be polling higher. During the healthcare debate of 2009-10, for instance, healthcare regularly broke the 20% barrier in polls on the most important issue in the US.

Now, it’s possible for Americans to care about more than one issue at once, but it’s fairly clear that gun control can get lost in our current mess of unemployment, budget cuts, and a stalling legislature. But gun control tends to be tied with healthcare and immigration as the most important issue, at all of 5%. Right now, healthcare isn’t even a national issue so much as a state one, in parts of the country.

3. Most Americans don’t feel gun legislation needs to be passed this year

This doesn’t come as a shocker given my last point, yet gun rights advocates have to like this number: only 46% of Americans in the latest Pew Research poll believe it is essential to pass gun legislation this year. That number includes only 42% of independents, and in fact, only 71% of Democrats who think that gun safety legislation is essential this year.

This is a key point because Republicans might fear being seen, once again, as “too rigid” and the “party of no”, as many Americans feel they are. But they can rest a little easier when it comes to guns. The American public seems to be saying that there’s nothing wrong with a delay.

4. Public opinion on gun control will eventually run out

If new gun laws aren’t passed this year, then they likely won’t be passed at all. Past history indicates that the current tide of opinion in favor of gun control will ebb over the course of the year. After Columbine, the only event in recent history with a comparable increase in favor of gun control, the high-water mark dropped after a year.

The reasons are twofold. First, the movement in favor of gun control has been driven mostly by media coverage. The media has yet to abandon stories about gun control, but time and a business imperative will eventually take their toll. Newer and more compelling news stories will fill the headlines, and most people will follow where the news coverage leads.

Second, the general movement over the past two decades has been against greater gun control. Take a look at the image above and take away the Sandy Hook spike. Prior to the Newtown shooting, the percentage of Americans in favor of stricter gun control had dropped below 50% – the first time that had ever happened.

Thus, from a game theory standpoint, I’m not exactly sure congressional members who want minimal gun control should rush into any deal. They have the numbers to stop any gun control measures in the Senate by filibuster, and they have a majority in the House. As importantly, if they look at the polling, they’ll know that they won’t face much of a penalty from the public: America isn’t exactly clamoring for tighter gun control and believes that other steps would do more to curb gun violence.

This is not to say a bill on background checks won’t pass through Congress. It’s just that the current hold-up should surprise no one; and despite the weight of current opinion, the pressure to make a law on guns probably won’t increase. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

How the fate of gun control is tied to presidential popularity | Harry J Enten

Polling shows that Obama’s approval rating is closely correlated with opinion on gun control. That suggests trouble ahead

Want to know how people feel about President Obama’s gun control plan?

Simply ask whether they approve or disapprove of how the president and his administration are doing their job. The two questions are nearly perfectly linked, and that could have major consequences for the future of gun control legislation.

The latest ABC/Washington Post polls prove the strong relationship. Many individual gun proposals are highly popular. In fact, seven tested gun measures, including background checks and bans on assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns, have majority support ranging from 51% to 88%.

When you attach Obama’s name by calling it “Barack Obama’s proposals”, the Post discovered that 53% of Americans favor the proposals – nearly identical to Obama’s approval rating of 55% in a separate Post poll last week. Gallup found the same, with 53% in favor of Obama’s gun control plan, compared to his monthly approval rating of 52%.

Drill down to specific demographics and the link between approval of the gun plan and approval of Obama’s administration becomes even clearer. Neither the Post nor Gallup asked about the plan or Obama’s approval in the same poll. The Post did, however, enquire about Joe Biden’s favorability. Biden’s net favorable of +11 percentage points is very close to Obama’s net approval rating of +14pt from the prior poll, meaning that the two are closely correlated.

[Note: we test Biden because we are examining small sub-samples and the sampling error on margins (for example, for favorable minus unfavorable) of less than 350 people is about 10pt or greater, which makes comparing different poll sub-samples difficult. By restricting ourselves to the same sample of people, as we can with Biden's favorables and the gun package, we can compare the answers among the exact same group of respondents.]

Among the 24 subgroups tested, the correlation between a subgroup’s opinion towards Joe Biden and Obama’s gun plan is 0.98 – nearly perfect. Moreoever, 95% of the differences in subgroup net favorables on Obama’s gun plan are predicted by their respective opinions of Biden. You rarely see two variables this closely linked. That’s even higher than the strong explanatory power that evangelical voting had in forecasting the Republican primary.

The median difference between a group’s opinion towards Biden versus Obama’s gun package is 2pt, which matches the 1pt difference between favorability for Biden and Obama’s gun control package overall. That’s ridiculously small. It means that if a respondent liked Biden, who substitutes for the administration, then the person liked the gun plan. Among independent voters, Biden’s net favorable is +5pt, and the net favorable impression of Obama’s plan is +7pt. Republican responders register -51pt net favorables for both. Among region, the median difference is only 3pt. Biden, for example, had a net favorable of +12pt in the south, while Obama’s gun plan had a favorable of +10pt. In the battleground of the midwest, Biden stood at +4pt and Obama’s gun plan was at +5pt net favorable.

So much for the correlation, but what does it mean for the future of gun control legislation?

In short, it means the gun control debate is likely heading in the direction of healthcare. In that political fight, as with this one, individual proposals polled well, but attaching Obama’s name to a proposal polarized opinion.

The key difference this time is that the net approval for Obama and his administration is about 14pt higher than it was when the healthcare bill passed in March 2010. That’s at least part of the reason why Obama’s gun safety proposals are polling much higher than his healthcare reform bill did three years ago.

This is also the main explanation for why President Obama’s gun plan is doing fairly well among independents and southerners. Obama lost both groups in the 2012 election, yet his post-election bounce has temporarily endeared him to them.

The chances are that he can’t maintain this surge in popularity, as most second-term bounces don’t last as long as the first-term ones. Obama will likely maintain a positive net approval overall, but not among certain subgroups. If his subgroup approval eventually matches his election margins, then he’ll start to show negative numbers among independents and southerners.

The question, then, is whether the high correlation between support for Obama’s administration and its gun policy signals that support for gun control is also poised to drop. It makes sense that it would. I’d also anticipate that this drop will be among the same subgroups as for Obama’s overall approval. That’ll mean that the current support for the gun plan among independents and southerners goes up in smoke.

Many House representatives up for re-election in 2014 are likely aware of the relationship between Obama’s gun proposals and his approval. Right now, that’s not an issue, but a fall in Obama’s approval would make this high correlation a problem. I don’t believe that legislators from areas where Obama’s approval is negative would want to be associated with a bill whose popularity is tied directly to presidential ratings. I’m talking about senators from red states who are committed to opposition, or waffling, on gun control – like Max Baucus, Mark Begich, Tim Johnson, Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, and, to a lesser extent, Kay Hagan.

So, we shouldn’t be surprised by a decline in support for Obama’s gun control package, nor by more obfuscation from vulnerable Democrats, who want to tread very carefully on guns. This doesn’t mean any gun package is over before it’s begun. Universal background checks, which are supported by about 90% of the public, seem to be picking up some steam.

But gun control legislation, on the whole, will be difficult to pass – and not just on the face of the proposals, but because red state legislators facing re-election simply won’t want to be associated a bill so closely tied to the popularity of President Obama. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Gun control polling: Is Obama really losing public support?

A new CNN poll shows Americans’ support for gun control is falling. It isn’t – but that doesn’t necessarily mean CNN is wrong

Support for gun control is falling. Well, that’s what CNN wants you to believe, anyway. On Wednesday, CNN/ORC/Time released a poll that noted “public support [for gun control] has slipped a bit when compared to surveys taken immediately after last month’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.”

The percentage of Americans who favor an assault weapons ban is down 6 points, from 62% to 56%, per CNN. The percentage of Americans who support a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips is down 4pt, from 62% to 58%. Finally, the percentage of Americans who want all gun owners to register their firearms with the local government fell 9pt, from 78% to 69%.

This would be big news, given that President Obama hopes the public will pressure Congress to pass gun control legislation. The poll would illustrate a point I made last week: history indicates that Obama has only a limited time to act, as support for stricter gun control could fall even further in the coming months. Indeed, CNN Polling Director Keating Holland notes: “Changes are likely due to the passage of time, as the initial shock of the Newtown tragedy has begun to wear off, and may indicate why the White House has put the gun issue on a fast track.”

The problem with all this analysis is that it begins on a faulty premise. Americans, at least at this point, do not yearn any less for stricter gun measures than they did in December. Why do I say that when CNN’s data says the opposite?

There are other pollsters in the field, besides CNN. Both ABC/Washington Post and Pew Research fielded polls within a day of CNN, in both December and January. They tested some of the same questions throughout, which is important because merely rewording a question – even when describing the same policy – can cause major differences in results. That’s why it’s really difficult to compare one pollster to another, even when their questions broach the same issue. The key, therefore, is to compare questions within pollsters.

Take a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, about which all three pollsters asked. CNN showed that support for a ban on “high-capacity ammunition clips” fell by 4pt, from 62% to 58%. But ABC/Washington Post found the percentage of Americans in favor of a banning “high-capacity ammunition clips that can carry 10 more bullets” is up 6pt, from 59% to 65%. Pew Research shows a rise of 1pt, from 53% to 54%. The baseline for each differs because the wording differs, so we look at the movement, instead. Two showed increased support for a ban, while one showed a decrease. They average an increase of 1pt – not statistically significant.

The other questions from ABC/Washington Post and Pew confirm that nothing changed. ABC/Washington Post discovered that this month, 51% of Americans want an assault weapons ban, which is not statistically different from the 52% who wanted one last month. On Pew’s generic question of whether it is more important to protect the right to own guns, or to control gun ownership: 51% chose gun ownership in January, and 49% in December. Again, this is not statistically different.

It would seem that CNN/ORC/Time is an outlier. Outliers are to be expected – we aggregate polls during election season to find the true value. The question is how pollsters deal with outliers. They can say “our poll is right” and ignore other polls. Or they can say our methodology is sound, though we were unlucky with our sample. The correct route is the latter.

We saw the danger of pollsters being proud during the election. Gallup racked up countless website hits, as it was the only major, non-partisan pollster to consistently show Mitt Romney ahead in the final month. We saw far too many journalists and analysts believing in Gallup as if it were the God of polling, simply because it’s been around for a very long time. In the end, both Gallup and the people who counted on Gallup looked a little foolish.

There is no election directly at stake when it comes to guns, so attention to outliers is less risky than it used to be. Moreover, wording differences between pollsters can lead to very different answers, so nothing about CNN’s absolute numbers stand out as unusual.

Still, the question of whether Obama is losing the American public on guns is a very important one. Media organizations, including CNN, should put their polls in context with all the others. Readers and watchers deserve to know the full picture.

In this case, the full picture is that Americans’ support for gun control is as high as it was in December. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

How Senate Democrats, not just House Republicans, will block gun control | Harry J Enten

A filibuster-proof majority in Senate is already a stretch, but red state Democrats up for re-election may make it unreachable

Vice-President Biden’s group will make recommendations to President Obama this week on gun control. Majorities of Americans support numerous new gun restrictions, yet I’m pessimistic that anything will get through Congress. Why?

You might expect me to cite the Republican-controlled House, but the chances that the Democratic-controlled Senate will pass anything are not much better.

The Democrats need 60 votes to achieve “cloture” or avoid a filibuster, and that seems near-impossible. Assuming all 55 Democrats vote for a piece of gun control legislation, another five Republicans must join the coalition. I can only think of four Republicans who are gettable.

Mark Kirk, from blue state Illinois, has a lifetime F-rating from the NRA and has voiced support for an assault weapons ban. Susan Collins, from Obama-voting Maine, and Dan Coats of Indiana have each received a C+ from the NRA, and worse grades from the Gun Owners of America. Finally, John McCain of Arizona only has a B+ from the NRA and a C- from the Gun Owners.

These four Republicans, plus all the Democrats, equal only 59, which, of course, isn’t 60. Every other Republican has at least an A from either the NRA or the Gun Owners. There would have to be a major change of heart from at least one Republican in order to avoid a filibuster or make cloture.

But even if you got that magical one Republican, the openness to discuss gun control from West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, isn’t likely to be shared by six red state Democrats who are set to run for re-election in 2014.

The reason is that regardless of how Americans view gun control right now, research indicates that they are likely to be at least somewhat affected by cues from their party leaders. This is especially the case if the party is out of power, as the Republicans currently are. You saw this during healthcare reform debate of 2009 when most Americans were in favor of Obamacare at first, then turned against it once it became a partisan issue and Republican leaders resisted the reforms. Americans then opposed the new law even as they still supported most of the policies contained within it. A similar outcome is possible this time, as Republicans leaders have not indicated much of any movement on gun control.

Pew Research found that Americans who prioritize gun rights over gun control, as well as gun owners, are more likely to say that the Republican party does a better job of reflecting their views on gun control, by margins of 44 percentage points and 22pt, respectively. Americans against gun control are more likely to be politically active than their pro-control counterparts: they are 17pt more likely to to contribute money, contact a public official, sign a petition, or express an opinion on a social network. I can’t imagine a senator from a red state, especially one in which there are more guns per household than the national average, wanting to go up against a barrage from pro-gun forces.

That’s why Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, and Tim Johnson of South Dakota all have A ratings from the NRA. They all come from states ranked third or fourth in gun ownership – at least 57% of households have a gun in the home. Baucus voted against a renewal of the assault weapons ban in 2004; Begich said he’d vote against it even after Newtown; and Johnson has seen his NRA grade go from a C+ in 2003 to an A, with an NRA endorsement, during his 2008 re-election fight.

The electoral prospects for each man adds to the unlikelihood that any will cast a vote in favor of serious gun control legislation. According to Public Policy Polling (PPP), Baucus has a net approval rating of -3pt and leads a generic Republican candidate by only 3pt. Begich won election 2008 by only 1pt and is rated as “vulnerable” by the Cook Political Report, which also pegs Johnson as the incumbent most likely to lose in 2014.

Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, too, is likely a goner on serious gun control legislation, despite a C from the NRA. She voted against renewing the assault weapons ban in 2004, and pretty much every other gun control measure of the past eight years. She won re-election in 2008 by six points – against a relatively weak opponent and in a state that voted for Romney by 17pt. She is “at risk” per the Cook Political Report. In Louisiana, 44% of households have a gun, 14th most in the nation.

Only Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas could go in favor of gun control. Hagan has an F from NRA, though she voted in favor in loosening regulations across state lines and calls herself a strong supporter of the second amendment. Pryor has a C-. He also voted to renew the assault weapons ban in 2004, and has wavered only occasionally since.

Again, the issue is that the Cook Political Report puts both of them at risk, come election season. Hagan’s net approval rating of -2 per PPP means she can’t afford to lose many voters, even if her state ranks only 23rd in the nation for households with guns, at 41%.

Pryor might be in an even worse spot. In 2012, Obama lost Arkansas by 24pt, and Democrats lost their control of the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. Democrats had three of the state’s four representatives in Congress during Pryor’s last election, but don’t have a single one now. He simply doesn’t need enemies in a state where 55% of households have a gun – sixth most in the nation.

So, I don’t think you can count on any red state Senate Democrat who is running in 2014. Taking away these six leaves the pro-control caucus with 53 votes in the Senate, at most – even with the four Republicans. Counting Hagan and Pryor only leaves the pro-control caucus with 55 votes.

Let’s also be real here. Joe Manchin has only said that “everything should be on the table”. He hasn’t actually committed to anything concrete. Neither have Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, nor Jon Tester of Montana – all red state Democratic senators given A-ratings by the NRA – committed to anything specific.

That’s why the smart analysis says that the chances of Congress passing serious gun control legislation decrease by the day. The House is a foregone conclusion. When all these numbers start getting added together, I’m not even sure you can find a simple majority of senators to agree on tougher gun control. A filibuster-proof majority, meanwhile, is likely impossible. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

How far can President Obama go with an executive order on gun control? | Harry J Enten

Since any gun safety law would face opposition in a Republican-controlled Congress, the president must weigh public opinion

Vice-President Joe Biden’s gun panel is set to report to President Barack Obama next Tuesday. The common view is that any legislation that is at all controversial would have a difficult time getting passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Now, Biden has raised the possibility of getting gun control measures by executive order.

My advice for the president as someone who reads polls: go for it, if it’s what you want to do. There is much discussion that acting by executive order would be seen as a “totalitarian” action and provoke a backlash. Nonsense, so long as the order is supporting a measure the public favors.

Consider that in June 2012 Obama took executive action on a “mini-Dream Act” that provided a path to avoid deportation for some undocumented immigrants who came to the country before the age of 16, had a high school education (or were attending school) or had served in the military, and had no criminal background. He did so administratively because he couldn’t get a law passed by Congress.

There was heavy public support before the order was signed. Back in late 2010, Gallup found that 54% of Americans would vote for a bill that would allow for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country in their youth to have a pathway to citizenship. A late 2011, a Fox Poll put support for such a law at 63%.

After Obama made the new policy instruction, the public held to its position. Five polls taken between the June announcement and now found that anywhere from 54% to 64% of Americans still believe that young undocumented immigrants should not be sent packing. This includes three questions that specifically mentioned Obama’s name, and that his administration had “announced” the policy change (in other words, the measure specifically didn’t pass through Congress).

You might argue that the gun debate is different because the powerful gun rights lobby would be able to convince the public otherwise. The flaw in that statement is that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is just not that popular these days: only 42% of Americans have a favorable view of the NRA per Public Policy Polling, which is down from 48% just a few weeks ago.

The president is also dealing with a public that’s seen its support for gun control climb higher since the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. I count five pollsters (ABC/Washington Post, CBS News, Gallup, CNN/ORC, and YouGov) that asked a question about whether gun control should be stricter before and after Newtown. Before the massacre, the weaker “stay the same” position on gun control beat the stricter position by an average of 3.8 percentage points. Afterward, stricter led by 11.4pt – a 15.2pt turn-around.

Past history suggests that the president can’t wait around until he gets a Congress that is willing to cooperate. After the Columbine shooting in 1999, Americans’ support for stricter gun laws jumped by 5-10pt. After a year or two, the spike had abated and appetite for stricter gun laws continued its slow decline to the minority position it held just before Newtown.

So what policies should the president consider, as long as he thinks courts will uphold his orders?

• He should end the “gun show loophole” to force people who buy guns at a gun show or through private sales and online shopping to have a background check: 92% of Americans favor this position per Gallup, while PPP puts support at 76%.

• Obama should seek to ban high-capacity ammunition clips that contain more than 10 bullets: CNN/ORC, Gallup, Pew, PPP, and YouGov all show at least 53% of Americans in favor of this policy.

• He should seek ways to ensure that people with poor mental health records do not get a gun: CNN/ORC found that 92% Americans did not want Americans with mental health problems to be in possession of a gun; PPP took it one step farther and discovered that 63% of Americans want people to be required to take a health exam before buying a gun.

• Obama should obviously prevent felons convicted of a violent crime from owning a gun: 94% and 92% approve of that measure, per PPP and CNN/ORC respectively.

• He should try to make sure that guns, even if not recently purchased, would be registered with a government or law enforcement agency: CNN/ORC finds 78% agree with that policy.

• Obama should look to ban outright bullets that explode or are designed to break through a bullet-proof vest: Pew found that 56% favor this position.

• Obama should try to make it more difficult to buy ammunition and/or guns over the internet: 69% of Americans wanted to ban these practices, according to PPP.

You’ll note I don’t include an assault weapons ban. The reason is that pollsters are split: Gallup and Pew signal that a majority is opposed to banning assault or semi-automatic weapons, while ABC/Washington Post, CNN/ORC, PPP, and YouGov show the reverse. It seems to me that, politically speaking, an executive order would be the wrong course on an issue that apparently splits the country down the middle.

Further, the president would almost certainly be better-off passing any law through Congress. It not only looks better, but it lessens the chance of any political blowback I may be underestimating. The danger, of course, is that if a bill fails to get through Congress, it would look like awfully sour grapes then to obtain gun control measures through executive orders. It’s quite possible that the public would see that as executive over-reach.

Also, I am by no means a constitutional scholar: while there are plenty of people arguing in favor of executive action, others argue that some of these proposals, if put into action by executive order, would be unconstitutional and would be ruled so.

That said, if the president is sensitive to public opinion and reading the polls, there are a number of gun control policies he can obtain by executive order without fear of a backlash. But the lesson of Columbine is that he has a narrow window of opportunity, in the wake of Newtown, in which to act. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds