Is this the sign Democrats need to try again on guns?

Polls show voters reward senators who took tough votes on gun control, and punish those who didn't

By Alex Seitz-Wald
Published May 3, 2013 2:20PM (EDT)

We've already seen some political fallout for senators who cast key votes either way on the compromise bill to expand background checks that the Senate killed two weeks ago -- and it may bode well for the round-two push on gun control currently in the works.

While there's already been downside for those who voted against the bill, today we learn that red state Democrats who voted in favor of the bill have been rewarded in the polls. In North Carolina, 52 percent of voters said they're more likely to reelect Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina because of her vote, while just 26 percent said the opposite. Meanwhile, in Louisiana, 45 percent said Sen. Mary Landrieu's vote boosted their likelihood of voting for the Democrat, compared to just 25 percent who said it makes them less likely to vote for her. She also saw her net approval rating tick up by six percentage points.

The poll is especially important because Hagen and Landrieu are up for reelection next year. Nationally, a CBS New poll found that 59 percent of Americans were upset about the Senate killing the background check bill.

On the flip side, in Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, and Ohio, four Republican and one Democratic senator faced a "serious backlash" to their votes against the bill, with a PPP poll finding a drop in their approval ratings and a plurality of voters saying the votes make them less likely to support their senator in the next election. Opposing background checks even helped make Arizona GOPer Jeff Flake the least popular senator in America.

In New Hampshire, moderate Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte's approval rating plummeted from a net plus 15 percentage points in October to a net negative two late last month. At townhall meetings in the state this week, Ayotte faced furor from constituents over her vote.

And yesterday, a Tucson shooting victim gave John McCain 19 roses (one for each victim) to thank him for his vote in favor of the bill.

Still, this is a far cry from the popular outrage that senators faced when they killed a background check expansion after the Columbine shooting in 2000. That year, voters "lit up phone lines on Capitol Hill to protest" and the public outcry was so fierce that Republicans backed-down within less than 24 hours. The problem is that while huge majorities of American support expanding background checks, very few care about the issue intensely. On the other side, there's a sizable minority who care passionately about defending gun rights and will even vote on this issue alone.

But the polling could be enough to give Democrats confidence to take another shot at passing a gun safety bill, and maybe even push moderate Republicans like Ayotte to switch their vote in exchange for some modest concessions. Insiders think the bill really only needs one more Republican vote, in which case the four Democrats who voted against the bill the first time around would likely switch their votes, putting Harry Reid over the 60 vote threshold needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.

Alex Seitz-Wald

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Gun Control Guns John Mccain Kay Hagan Mark Begich Mary Landrieu Polling Universal Background Checks