The Senate's defeat of a package of popular proposals aimed at curbing gun violence last week seemed certain to foment public outrage at out-of-touch politicians who don't listen to their constituents.
Not so much, according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll. Yes, a plurality (47 percent) describe themselves as either "angry" or "disappointed" about the failure of the gun legislation, but 39 percent call themselves "relieved" or "happy" about what happened. That's a far cry from the 90-ish percent support that expanding background checks -- the centerpiece of the proposed legislation -- enjoyed.
And, among those who said they were "very closely" keeping tabs on the vote, the split was even closer; 48 percent said they were angry/disappointed while 47 percent were relieved or happy. (That piece of data is indicative of the passion gap on the issue between those supporting gun rights and those pushing for more restrictions.)
Viewed broadly, the new Post-Pew poll numbers suggest that, in the end, the Senate vote last week wound up functioning in the minds of most Americans as a sort of stand-in for how they feel about gun rights more generally as opposed to the specifics (background checks in particular) of the legislation.
So, not surprisingly, those who were most angry about the failure of the gun bill were reliably Democratic groups such as those with postgraduate degrees and those living in the Northeast.
Ditto those who described themselves as "very happy" about the collapse of the legislation. Three in 10 Republicans put themselves in that category, as did one in four whites without college degrees.
The numbers suggest that the White House wound up losing the message fight over the gun legislation. Rather than a conversation centered on widely-popular measures supported by members of both parties, the debate -- at least as people perceived it -- became a wider referendum on the proper place for guns in society.
To their credit, the president and his White House tried like hell to emphasize that the proposals in the bill were ones that drew support across party lines. But, their failure to make that case effectively speaks to the entrenched views much of the country holds on guns. The conclusion? Most people simply weren't really listening to the argument President Obama was trying to make.
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