During his speech Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre launched an attack on the Democratic Party and its “socialist agenda.” The speech marked just how partisan gun policy, and thus the NRA, has become.
It may come as a surprise to some, then, that the NRA and its political action committee have, until recently, backed Democratic candidates for Congress with some regularity.
So what happened?
The Center for Responsive Politics has tracked who the political action committee and those individuals closely associated with the NRA, such as employees, have given campaign money to since 1992.
Back in 1992, Democratic candidates for the House made up 39% of all the House candidates the NRA donated to. Following the assault weapons ban passing a Democratic-led Congress, the Democratic makeup of NRA contributions in the House declined to just 25% heading into the 1994 campaign.
That number then held at 15% to 25% from 1996 through the 2010 midterm elections.
Democrats even made a point of running candidates in the 2006 midterms who could pick up NRA support. That effort somewhat paid off when those candidates ran for re-election in 2008 and 2010. In those cycles, greater than 20% of all House candidates who received money from the NRA were Democrats. In 2010, in fact, the NRA upset some Republicans by how many Democratic incumbents it contributed to. All told, 63 Democratic House incumbents (or 29% of all incumbents who) received donations from the NRA that cycle.
The NRA’s backing of some Democrats (and the Democratic Party’s willingness to reach out to the NRA) was reflective of the electorate’s breakdown. Back in 2006, the Pew Research Center asked midterm voters whether they were supporters of the NRA. In that year, 27% of Americans who said they would vote for the Democratic candidate for Congress also said they were NRA supporters. It was higher among Republicans, at 54%. So while NRA supporters were more likely to be Republicans, it wasn’t a blowout by any stretch.
The bottom, however, fell out for Democrats after many moderate Blue Dog Democrats were defeated in the 2010 cycle. Democrats accounted for only 10% of House candidates who received NRA donations in 2012 and just 2% in 2016. In raw numbers, the NRA gave to 115 Democratic House candidates in 1992, to 65 in 2010 and to only four in 2016.
As in 2006, the NRA’s actions in 2016 were reflective of the electorate and how Democratic candidates felt about the NRA. Unlike the Democrats’ friendly posture in 2006, presidential nominee Hillary Clinton attacked the NRA and called for gun control many times. And according to Pew, just 8% of Clinton supporters said that being called a supporter of the NRA described them well. On the other hand, 69% of Trump supporters said that being a supporter of the NRA described them well. The 61 percentage point gap in NRA support in the 2016 campaign was more than double the 27 percentage point gap in 2006.
Clearly, the NRA has no place in the Democratic Party anymore. The party is far more liberal overall and more liberal on guns in particular.
That means the NRA doesn’t need to worry about alienating Democrats, as its supporters are Republicans in a way they haven’t been in the past. The result is what you saw from LaPierre on Thursday.