A post-election survey from a leading gun violence prevention group suggests that a Democratic focus on gun safety can rebut aggressive GOP messaging on crime, and cites gun control as a potentially winning issue for President Joe Biden if he runs for reelection in 2024.
The survey from Giffords, the eponymous group founded by mass shooting survivor and former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), found that gun violence was a much more important issue than was generally thought before the election. It was one of just a handful of issues ― alongside inflation, jobs, and protecting Social Security and Medicare ― that more than three-quarters of voters said was important to their vote.
Strikingly, while 58% of voters said they were worried about paying their bills, almost the same percentage (57%) said they were worried about their kids returning home safely from school.
“Americans are rightly concerned about crime ― specifically, violent crime,” said Peter Ambler, the group’s executive director. “If you want to use the kitchen-table test, though, what parents are talking about at their kitchen tables each and every day is the threat of gun violence, the threat of school shootings. That’s what strikes fear into their hearts. That’s what is going to be most salient at the ballot box.”
The Giffords group ― which argued in a previous report that the hike in crime in recent years has been driven almost entirely by gun violence ― recommends that Democrats keep gun violence prevention front and center heading into the 2024 election, when Republicans will almost certainly return to attacks on crime.
Giffords’ polling shows voters still believe the GOP is better equipped to fight crime and keep them safe, but that voters also believe universal background checks are a better solution to battling crime than increasing funding for law enforcement or increasing the number of police officers on the beat.
“Democrats should forcefully rebut Republican attacks on policing and other matters, but that defense is made a lot more effective if you pivot into an attack on guns,” Ambler said.
Ambler pointed to Sen.-elect John Fetterman (D-Pa.) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) as two candidates who effectively fought back against GOP attacks on crime. Giffords aired multiple ads in Pennsylvania, attacking Republican nominee Mehmet Oz over his opposition to universal background checks.
“Oz sides against law enforcement, putting our communities and kids at risk,” a narrator said in one of Giffords’ ads.
Fetterman also aired multiple ads featuring either the candidate or a law enforcement officer testifying to Fetterman’s support for law enforcement, and questioning whether the celebrity doctor had what it took to fight crime.
Ambler, however, noted that the group’s experience in Colorado may be better preparation for taking on a post-Donald Trump GOP ― if the GOP actually moves on Trump, that is. Bennet was facing businessman Joe O’Dea, a moderate who said he wouldn’t vote for Trump in 2024. Giffords aired $2.5 million worth of ads in the state attacking O’Dea on guns.
“Joe O’Dea doesn’t care about the safety of my kids when they’re in school,” a Denver-area mother says in one of the ads. “He’s on the side of the gun lobby.”
Ambler argued that the message successfully persuaded key voting blocs O’Dea was too right-wing, even if he did break with the former president.
“You can take a candidate like O’Dea, and even if they are distancing themselves from Trump in a way that’s a minimum standard for a lot of voters, you can disqualify them on guns,” he said.
The polling memo, written by strategists at Global Strategy Group, also argues that Democrats and Biden can do more to publicize the bipartisan gun safety law he signed over the summer.
“Voters support the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act more than Democrats’ other major accomplishments this year: the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act,” the pollsters wrote. “However, voters heard the least about the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. By bringing this into communications, Democrats have the chance to proactively set the record straight on their stances on crime and assure voters they support commonsense gun safety policies that reduce crime and protect their families.”
Ambler said it’s clear the issue resonates with key blocs who could make or break Biden’s bid for a second term, should he run again ― especially suburban women and Hispanic voters, two groups whose importance was repeatedly emphasized in the memo.
“There was a lot more talk about gun violence at kitchen tables across America than there was at cocktail parties in Washington, D.C., which I think is instructive for Democrats,” Ambler said. “It’s incredibly important for Democrats as they try to maintain their coalition: suburban voters, young voters, voters of color. It’s here to stay.”