Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2018 and has been updated to reflect new polling data as of June 2019.
It’s been seven months since the midterm elections, and we’re already in the midst of the 2020 election cycle. As the races heat up, it’s worth looking back at what we can learn from the 2018 elections. One thing is clear: the politics of guns in America has shifted dramatically. Last year, guns went from third rail to winning issue in key races across the country.
This has major repercussions for 2020, where we have a chance to not just grow our gun safety majority in the House, but also achieve a gun safety majority in the White House and Senate.
Here are 5 ways guns could be a game changer in the next election cycle:
1) Democrats are unabashedly pro gun safety
Fueled by outrage over Congressional inaction and bolstered by student-led calls for stronger gun laws, Democrats campaigned hard last year in favor of gun safety–even flipping the script and boasting “F” ratings from the NRA–and won. Now, gun safety already is among their top legislative priorities in 2019.
- A candidate’s position on gun safety matters more than ever: According to a Giffords poll, 59% of early state voters believe a candidate’s positions on guns has become “much more important” over the past few years. A candidate’s position on guns is increasing in salience with voters, making it more important than ever to speak up on the issue.
- Democratic candidates embraced reform like never before: According to a report and analysis by Reuters, “38 of the 59 Democrats backed by the party’s ‘Red-to-Blue’ campaign—targeting vulnerable Republican districts—have supported gun safety in their official platforms. At this point in the 2016 election cycle, only four of 36 Red-to-Blue candidates backed stronger gun laws in their platforms.”
- Democrats put money where their mouths are: According to an analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG data, “ads promoting stricter gun regulations have aired 102,636 times across the country last year—a 22-fold increase from four years ago.”
- Guns became a top issue for Dem voters: A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that Democratic voters viewed guns as one of the most important issues in determining their vote. And this was even true in key districts in swing states like Virginia, where voters ranked guns as a top political issue.
- Democrats have already taken bold action: The new House majority has already taken bold action on a range or priorities including universal background checks, addressing the Charleston loophole, and allocating $50 million for gun violence research at the CDC and NIH.
2) There’s a new crop of gun safety voters: young people
After Parkland, young people immediately organized, registered to vote, and cast their ballots. Ultimately this led to record turnout for youth in last year’s elections—a 48% increase from 2014. This could have major implications for 2020 in driving increased turnout among young people for gun safety candidates.
- More on that huge bump in turnout: The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University estimates that roughly 31 percent of youth (ages 18-29) turned out to vote in the 2018 midterms, an extraordinary increase over their estimate in 2014, when day-after exit poll calculation suggested that 21 percent of eligible young voters went to the polls.
- Historic voter registration: Giffords, joined by NextGen America, Acronym, and Everytown, launched Our Lives Our Vote, a nationwide drive to register young voters ahead of the 2018 midterm around the need for gun reform. The campaign registered over 60,000 18-and-19-year-olds.
- Where it all started: It started with March for Our Lives—arguably the largest single-day protest in the history of the nation’s capital—and then turned into a year of engaging young people around the issue of gun violence, including coordinating a national school walkout, staging emotional pop-up art installations, and mailing birthday presents in the form of voter registration information to kids on their eighteenth birthdays.
3) The NRA is officially toxic
Last year we saw big business cut ties with the NRA in the wake of Parkland. An NRA endorsement has gone from badge of honor to badge of disgrace. We even saw politicians from both sides of the aisle openly reject their endorsements, going from an A to an F. The results of last year’s election go to show that the NRA is officially toxic and that its reputation isn’t improving anytime soon.
- NRA favorability still down: A recent report from the Navigator Research project showed that the NRA decline in favorability has NOT rebounded since Parkland and that it’s a major net-negative for politicians associated.
- Voters don’t want NRA influence in elections: Just a week before the election, polling showed that 67 percent of voters prefer a candidate who does not take money from the gun lobby.
- Candidates used their challengers’ NRA endorsement against them: 35 of the NRA’s top-champions in the House were defeated, the majority of whom accepted gun lobby contributions and A-ratings while blocking progress on all action to strengthen gun laws.
- What a difference two years makes: Just two years ago, the NRA spent more than $50 million on the 2016 campaign. Last year, it spent a mere fraction of that and was outspent by gun safety groups like Giffords.
4) Suburban voters are passionate about gun safety
It’s been noted that the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is built on big victories in suburban districts, and gun safety was a top issue for suburban voters.
- In a poll taken one week before the election, suburban women are “a crucial voting bloc on virtually every issue” and prefer the Democratic Party—which supports stronger gun laws—to handle gun violence by 26 percentage points.
- Polls taken in suburban swing districts all showed that when voters found out that their representative was supported by the NRA, they received less support. This includes:
Suburban voters made gun safety a top issue, and until something is done to stem the tide of gun violence, it’s safe to say their focus on the issue will remain.
5) Gun safety even plays in the deep red states
Yes, gun safety was a big issue in lots of suburban swing districts in increasingly liberal states like Virginia, Nevada, and Colorado. But Texas, Georgia, and Kansas? Surprisingly, also yes.
- Georgia: Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District is emblematic of this change. Her entire life was upended by gun violence when her son was killed with a gun for playing his music too loudly. In a suburban district that is predominantly white and has historically elected a Republican to Congress, they ultimately elected Lucy, a gun safety champion.
But she wasn’t alone.
- In the suburbs of Houston, longtime Republican representative John Culberson, a recipient of NRA contributions and endorsement, was toppled by Lizzie Fletcher, who made strengthening gun laws a central part of her campaign.
- And in the suburbs of Dallas, civil rights attorney and former linebacker for the Tennessee Titans, Colin Allred—who strongly supports treating gun violence like a public health crisis—unseated NRA-endorsed Pete Sessions.
- In the suburbs of Kansas City, Sharice Davids unseated Republican incumbent Kevin Yoder while running on a strong gun safety platform.
Tragically, gun violence touches every corner of the country, whether it’s red or blue. In the face of Congressional inaction in the face of our gun violence crisis, voters in even the reddest of states are ready for change. As Democratic primary voters support stronger gun laws more than ever and believe momentum is shifting in their favor, now is the time for Democratic candidates to speak up about gun violence and improving our gun laws.