Why the NRA Wins

During the Democratic debate, Bernie Saunders showed why the NRA continues to win.

But some notes on elections. First, to state the obvious, most voters take into account a number of factors in choosing which candidate to support, weighing and balancing different positions.

Second, groups that vote as a block sway elections, are force multipliers. In the usual pattern, most large groups split fairly evenly, with a preference for one candidate or the other. In the case of the biggest group of them all, the people of the United States voting for president, few winning candidates have ever reached even 60 percent.

If, on the other hand, a group delivers a bigger margin, they count for more than their weight, possibly much more. African-Americans make up 12 percent of the national electorate, but by giving 90+ percent to Barack Obama they became a powerful segment of his winning coalition.

But an even better demonstration of how these principles work are NRA supporters. First, they are not like other voters, in that they maintain solidarity on one issue and one issue only, gun rights. You are considering two candidates: one would repeal ObamaCare, throw out all illegal immigrants, ban Planned Parenthood, and supports background checks at gun shows. The other is a reasonably conservative Republican, who opposes background checks. The strong conservative would vote for the former, who is far closer to our voter's values. The NRA conservative holds his nose and votes for the latter because he rejects any effort at restricting firearms, notwithstanding the candidate's other positions.

And they do it in lock step, in near unanimous numbers, escalating the impact of their votes by a major factor.

Look at the other side. Not just liberal voters, but the average voter looks at the candidate as a whole, measuring her or his positions on a panoply of issues. Taking them all into consideration, a candidate's stance on climate change, women's rights, black lives, gay marriage...and gun control. These voters will not vote as a block just on guns.

Now turn to exhibit #1, Bernie Sanders. He is brilliant on economic inequality, great on reproductive rights, black issues, immigration. But he comes up short on gun control. How many liberals would vote against him because of this? How many should? Would they ditch all the other good he represents because of this one thing?

NRA members would, and do. In very large numbers. They influence elections out of turn because they cast ballots on the basis of this one position only, acting as a formidable bloc, defeating much larger, but more varied groups. To be blunt, their single-minded focus gives them enormous power in elections, far beyond their actual numbers, and is one of the reasons they persist in blocking reform.