POLITICS

The NRA Might Not Hold As Much Sway Over Elections As You Think

A new study casts doubt on the group's strength in influencing which candidate voters back.

The National Rifle Association, often described as one of the groups most feared by lawmakers and often cited as a prominent obstacle standing in the way of gun control, may not be as powerful at influencing elections as it claims.

A new analysis, conducted by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, found that the vast majority of candidates in races where the NRA spent over $100,000 were unsuccessful in 2012. The analysis also found that while more than half of the candidates the NRA supported in 2012 were successful, over 92 percent of the money the group spent went towards unsuccessful races.

The study was commissioned by the family of Kenneth Lerer, who is chairman of BuzzFeed and Betaworks and a co-founder and former chairman of The Huffington Post. In a post on Medium, Lerer wrote that his family commissioned the story after the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and is choosing to release it now because gun control is back in the news after President Barack Obama announced executive actions earlier this week.

The analysis looked at the 15 national races in 2012 where the NRA spent more than $100,000, and found that the group's aggressive efforts were only successful in three of them. 

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. A new study suggestions that the organization's influence may be overstated.
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. A new study suggestions that the organization's influence may be overstated.

The study also found that the letter grades the NRA gives candidates, frequently touted on the campaign trail, may not have such a big impact. Of the 26 U.S. Senate races in 2012 where the group had assigned letter ratings to both candidates, just six candidates with a higher NRA rating than their opponents won.

Originally founded as a conservation, marksmanship and hunting group after the Civil War, the NRA did not oppose some of the gun control measures enacted in the 20th century. That changed in the late 1970s, when new leadership in the organization became much more politically focused on defeating gun control.

The NRA is believed to have helped Republicans take control of the House in 1994 -- a claim that Paul Waldman of The American Prospect has also suggested may be exaggerated.

President Barack Obama announced a series of executive actions on gun control earlier this week and addressed the importance
President Barack Obama announced a series of executive actions on gun control earlier this week and addressed the importance of standing up to the gun lobby.

The NRA also has exaggerated its influence by investing in races where a candidate would have won without the group's support, the analysis claims. In 2010, according to the study, the NRA won in 12 of the 20 races in which it spent $100,000 or more. But in 11 of those cases, the candidate won by a margin of more than 10 percent, leading the study's authors to conclude that he or she would have won the race without the NRA, and the organization's role was "likely negligible."

In competitive races where the NRA did invest a lot of money, candidates also had other major donors contributing even more money, according to a Washington Post analysis. Another way that the NRA may exaggerate its influence is by inflating its membership numbers, as Mother Jones noted in 2013.

Even if the influence of the gun lobby is overstated, Obama seemed to be clearly aware that the group would be an obstacle in passing meaningful gun control laws.

"So all of us need to demand a Congress brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby’s lies," Obama said. "I mean, some of this is just simple math. Yes, the gun lobby is loud and it is organized in defense of making it effortless for guns to be available for anybody, any time. Well, you know what, the rest of us, we all have to be just as passionate."

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