Donald Trump’s path to reelection seems to be narrowing, as poll after poll shows him trailing Vice President Joe Biden, endorsed by Giffords in March.
To help elect a true gun safety champion like Joe Biden, Giffords and Global Strategy Group conducted research into swayable voters—the quarter of likely 2020 voters who are neither very favorable nor very unfavorable toward Trump—to determine if his positions on gun safety laws could drive support away from him.
The resounding answer is yes, especially when it comes to his opposition to universal background checks. Our research showed that voters overwhelmingly support background checks on all gun sales. When the story of Trump’s opposition to background checks is paired with voters’ emotional reactions to Trump’s time in office, this important bloc of voters moves away from Trump.
Trump Isn’t the Strong Leader These Voters Hoped For
The voters we looked at are generally still somewhat favorable toward Trump, but importantly also acknowledge he is not perfect. More importantly, after learning about Trump’s flip on and eventual opposition to background checks laws, this group of voters is a full three points less likely to support him.
Based on our research, Trump’s most obvious negatives don’t move these voters. While a majority of these voters used negative words to describe Trump: self-absorbed (77%); delivers for the wealthy (62%); and ignores the experts when it matters most (53%), these are not the qualities that are driving decisions among this bloc. Instead, what sways them most is making clear the fact that Trump is not the strong leader they thought they elected. His flip-flop on background checks drives this point home for them.
Our partners at Global Strategy Group used statistical analysis regression to get to the bottom of what really motivates these voters. We found that appealing to emotions worked best: communications that showed voters that Trump is “not the strong leader they thought” and “no longer represents change for the better,” while emphasizing that he “does more for his donors than the people he represents,” really landed. Voters who were made to feel that these statements apply to the president moved away from Trump.
Background Checks Are Common Sense for Voters
A major shift we’ve seen across our research this year is that background checks on all gun sales are so commonsense that voters are genuinely surprised, disappointed, and even shocked to learn that their lawmakers don’t support them and in Trump’s case, actively oppose them.
Like voters at large, these swayable voters overwhelmingly support background checks on all gun sales, with an overwhelming 93% support and just 7% opposition. Further, only 15% know that Trump opposes background checks. Given that Trump is one of the most well-defined, over-exposed politicians ever, there is rarely “new” information that swing voters can be convinced by. Messaging around his record on background checks is one of those things.In the 2016 election cycle, the NRA spent a record-setting $30.3 million on Trump’s campaign, more than its combined spending in the 2008 and 2012 election cycles. In 2017, Trump became the first president since Reagan to address the National NRA Convention, making headlines with his vow to the crowd:
“You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you.”
Last August, after mass shootings at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and outside of a nightclub in Dayton, Ohio, left more than 32 dead and another 50 wounded, President Trump went from saying “I support strong, meaningful background checks” to threatening to veto bipartisan background check legislation after conversations with his donors at the NRA.
Trump’s flip on background checks shows these voters he’s not the strong leader they expected. Swayable voters are four points less likely to feel hopeful about Trump after learning of his flip following El Paso and Dayton. They are seven points more likely to feel disappointed and 11 points more likely to say he does more for his donors than for the people he represents.
In an election where emotion is key, gun violence prevention can be a difference maker with the group of voters Trump needs desperately to win.