Why are single-issue voters so effective?

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Understanding single-Issue pro-gun voters

The NRA knows the power of the single-issue voter to fight against gun control. I’ve learned recently, some of how they motivate and mobilize their members to pester their legislative representatives. This combined with the NRA’s financial support and negative ads, enables them to stop gun reform and get Republicans elected.

Previously, I thought NRA strength came from their influence on politicians through money. After my reading, I still believe money plays a part blocking progress preventing gun violence – but NRA strength comes from more than that.

Single-issue voters win elections

It is puzzling that 60% of Americans favor stricter gun laws, yet it is still a heavy lift to pass any gun violence prevention measures. Are we a democracy? Shouldn’t it be that legislators who ignore public opinions lose elections? This is what I’ve been trying to understand.

When polled, most Americans support universal background checks. But these polls don’t tell us the depth of these opinions. Passionate voters that also advocate for issues, are more effective than those who’s belief in an issue is superficial.

It is commonly known among Democrats and Republicans that these days, money helps win elections and influence policy. But something is going on that prevents passage of new gun control laws. What is it that we Democrats don’t see? We don’t understand the power of the single-issue voter.

Why are single-issue voters so effective?

An NPR poll found three quarters of both Democrats and Republicans want better gun control. The problem is, they don’t want it bad enough. Pro-gun people want to protect their gun rights more than gun control people want to fight for gun safety.

We progressives feel frustrated with the lack of progress on meaningful gun violence prevention measures. Our temper boils up after each new mass shooting – at least for a while. Friends complain that gun violence is terrible. Some research what legislators are blocking gun reform. A few call their Senators and Representatives.

Reactions are haphazard. Because of busy lives, many gun control people rationalize that calling is a waist of time contacting their Senator or Representative. Their legislators have fixed opinions for and against. So, few citizens make calls.

The NRA knows better. When any gun related bill comes up for a vote, the NRA is right on top of the bill’s progress. As bills progress, they notify their members to send emails and make the calls to their legislators, no matter whether they are pro-gun or pro-gun control. This constant pressure is effective.

It is shameful that Democrats shun contacting legislators, whereas NRA members do contact public officials to express their opinion on gun issues. The Pew Research Foundation surveyed and found 21% of gun owners say they’ve contacted a legislator. This compares with 12% of non-gun owners have done the same thing.

A New Hampshire candidate for State Representative told me of her campaign experiences at events in a rural area of the state. She campaigned as a Democrat, but the tactic of intimidating candidates is similar against Democrats and Republicans.

After finishing her campaign speech, she took questions. Invariably, the first question would come from someone near the front of the audience. What is your position on the Second Amendment? This complex, emotionally charged question requires historical background knowledge of Supreme Court rulings. I don’t know how she answered the question, but I’m sure Republicans in the audience didn’t like it.

The strategy is to show a presence and a force represented by many other gun owners. They are polite but visible. Many candidates for office remember this force and become reluctant to poke the bear.

Fear of labeling is on the candidate’s mind. If they should back any gun violence prevention measure, they risk labeling as weak and anti-gun. Such a label would require defending against vocal pro-gun advocates. In addition, they risk lowering of their NRA rating; a simplistic guide used by many single-issue pro-gun voters.

Why do conservative groups exploit single-issue voters?

The Republican party coddles single-issue voters when they realized the passion their advocacy can bring to the political process. A Republican legislator uses the issue to guarantee a block of voters who will vote for them. President Trump ignored abortion rights and gun rights until he decided to run for election. Then, he learned the words to say to win him this block of voters.

Super-PACs target single-issuer voters because they need a target audience to influence. Single-issue pro-gun voters become easy targets for swaying by alarming them with fear the other side wants to take away their guns, freedom, and identity. In ads, the supported candidate understands their fears and wants to protect what Democrats want to take.

The NRA wants to sell guns. Supposedly, the NRA is a non-profit trying to help gun owners. Actually, they work to sell guns making money for their gun manufacturers and dealers. Knowing their actual objective, it is clear to me why they want to build their membership and political power by encouraging identity politics among gun owners.

How are single-issue voters created?

This is my understanding of how the NRA indoctrinates gun owners into the NRA fold. This is how they do it. A new gun owner buys a gun. They go to the local gun range to try the gun. After they’ve experienced firing their gun and are learning to enjoy the experience, the sell to join the NRA begins. It starts with building awareness that some people want to take your gun from you. The claim is that those people want to eliminate your freedom to have a gun, defined in the constitution.

After giving this message, the next step into a pro-gun indoctrination is to encourage joining the NRA. The NRA tells the new gun owners, this group works to protect their freedom and their right to own guns. Most join and as members they receive literature pushing the NRA message and urging advocacy to fight gun control legislation.

A big part of the indoctrination into the NRA is to build up a gun owner’s self-image and identity. Anyone who feels lost for an identity is vulnerable to this. Here is a group that welcomes them and boasts their self-confidence in their identity as a defender against bad guys. An American cowboy type image of themselves is one identity they may choose. This hooks them into being a single-issue voter. The loss of a personal identity is frightening to those craving an identity.

Logic and common sense don’t work well

Is self-image important to gun violence prevention people? No, we stress logic and common sense. Our emotional response occurs after every mass shooting. But, as the shock wears off within a week or so, our logic is still there, but the emotional shock deminishes. Motivation for advocacy wains. Identity dependence outlasts emotions, understood by Republicans and the NRA.

We fear gunman after a shooting, but as the days go on, threats of self-protection fade as other concerns take over our lives.

How can we fight single-issue voters

How can we fight the power of the single-issue voter? Gun violence prevention people must progress to a genuine passion for gun control from a passive belief in making a change. We can start by learning from the experience of the NRA.

I woke up to the power of confronting legislators last year after the Parkland High School shooting. We gathered fifteen people to confront our State Representative on his positions on several gun bills. He, a Republican, a gun owner, and a pro-gun supporter, felt intimidated by our passionate crowd of angry citizens. He couldn’t control the discussion to the point where he asked us to leave his office.

Since that time, his position on gun control seems to have changed. It surprised me that this year, he co-sponsored three gun control bills. His gun control record this year is the best of any Republican in the state. I’m sure our advocacy sway him to decide he had better take a new look at the issue, because if fifteen people felt this passionate, hundreds of others must feel the same way. He wants those votes in the next election.

The NRA tracks current legislation in the pipeline at each State House and Congress. Then, they alert their members urging them to advocate by calling and emailing their legislators. Gun violence prevention people lack this centralized capability. So, sign up for gun control group email lists that alert of upcoming votes on gun bills. My email list is one of those.

We need to combine with others in our actions to amplify our voices. One of the effective ways of doing this is to join a lobby day at our State House. Recently, I participated in a lobby day and found it non-threatening and satisfying to participate in an event that furthered an important cause.

We need to become aware of the votes of our legislators and the position of legislative candidates. The NRA assists their members with this by grading candidates for election. I can offer you a link where you can see the voting record of your legislator on gun bills.

One of the strategies of the NRA is to encourage the discussion of gun rights with friends and family. For some reason, I find we as gun control advocates, tend to avoid discussing this issue during casual conversations. Other political discussions and complaints seem to occur. I don’t understand this reluctance to discuss gun control, other than following a mass shooting.


I learned that our reliance on rational thinking and sensible arguments isn’t enough to result in better gun violence prevention measures. Without our continued passion and our resulting advocacy, no substantial improvements will result. Our passion for gun control is wide but shallow. We must dedicate ourselves to advocacy for gun safety as NRA pro-gun people defend their gun rights. The NRA leverages self-image needs and their vast resources to effectively resist gun control measures.