In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, the public’s support for stricter gun laws shot up to levels not seen in 25 years.
Student survivors of the shooting have publicly called on Congress to pass such legislation and are now marching on Washington.
In the face of this public outcry and with many voters telling pollsters it’s going to be an important or major factor for them in the upcoming midterm elections, the Republican-led Congress and the Republican President have done very little to enact stricter gun control.
So what’s the disconnect? There’s no obvious sign the public is actually punishing President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans for their inaction.
Even as the majority of Americans disapprove of the job the President has done handling gun policy, his approval rating has not fallen in the wake of Parkland shooting. The shooting occurred on February 14. Looking at the average of all polls and adjusting for whether the pollster normally has results that are more or less favorable to the President, Trump’s approval rating in the month before the murders at Parkland (i.e. January) was 40%. In the first full calendar month after Parkland (i.e. March), his approval rating is actually a point higher at 41%. That 41% is also a point above the average for his entire presidency of 40%.
The President’s approval rating over February and March of 2018 are the highest they’ve been in a very long time. In no month in the second half of 2017 did his approval rating ever top 40% for a month. He’s now done it for two consecutive months (including February, during which the massacre at Parkland occurred).
Contrast that to other monumental moments in this administration: Trump saw his ratings dip by three or four points on average after he fired FBI Director James Comey and during the debate over the unpopular Republican health care bill.
Congressional Republicans too have seen no decline in their ratings. Although they still trail on the generic congressional ballot, an average of all surveys in March puts the Republican deficit at 8 percentage points. That’s the same as it was in February and in January. All of which are equal to the long-term average since the beginning of the Trump presidency. All of which are also better than where Republicans were in December when they trailed by 11 percentage points on the generic congressional ballot.
Just five years ago, when Congress didn’t enact stricter gun laws following the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, congressional Republicans similarly didn’t see their polling numbers take a hit and they went on to gain seats in the following year. Or go back 24 years ago, when Republicans might have actually been rewarded for mostly voting against the federal assault weapons ban that President Bill Clinton signed into law.
In fact, Trump and Republicans might be at bigger risk of losing support if they were to support stricter gun legislation. A majority of those who support Trump oppose stricter gun legislation, and the GOP base could abandon him and Republicans who stray from that position.
Democrats will certainly try in some races to use the lack of major gun legislation to attack Republicans in the fall campaigns. But it’s possible that the salience of the gun message won’t be as high in November as it was in the immediate aftermath of Parkland. We’ve already seen searches for gun control begin to tail off on Google. And for now, gun control is an issue that many people say is going to affect their vote, but that doesn’t actually appear to be the case.