All signs are that President Obama intends to include an assault weapons ban in the package of gun reforms he’s set to release this week. This provision is widely thought to have little chance of getting through Congress; even Harry Reid has expressed skepticism that it can pass the Senate, and red state Dem Senators are said to be leery of it.
It’s unclear why Dems need to worry about the politics of the ban, however. That’s because new polling shows that opposition to the assault weapons ban is driven almost entirely by non-college males, a constituency the Democratic Party continues to rely upon less and less. Meanwhile, the constituencies that form the pillars of the emerging Democratic coalition — minorities, young Americans and college educated whites, particularly women — support the ban, in some cases overwhelmingly.
This underscores the ways in which gun control politics are changing — and why Dems no longer need to fear the issue.
The new polling comes from the Post/ABC News survey out last night. The toplines show that Americans support an assault weapons ban by 58-39. I asked the Post polling team for a detailed demographic breakdown:
* White non-college men are by far the least supportive, at 43-55.
* Meanwhile, white college educated men support a ban, 57-41. White college educated women are even more supportive, 73-25.
* Nonwhites overall are also very supportive, at 63-33.
* Americans from the ages of 18-39 support a ban, 52-46.
Non-college white men are the only constituency that opposes a ban. As Ron Brownstein has written, the coalition that powered the Dem victory in the last election — the “coalition of the ascendant” that will increasingly comprise the core of the Democratic Party’s support as demographic shifts continue — is made up of nonwhites, young Americans, and white, college educated voters, particularly women. These latter groups all support a ban. This finding is also backed up by a new National Journal poll, which finds that these constituencies are markedly supportive of stricter gun laws in general.
These shifts can be seen at work in another developing trend: The embrace of gun control by Democrats who plan to run for president in 2016. As Alec MacGillis details, despite the Democratic Party’s previous (and somewhat exaggerated) conviction that gun politics are dangerous nationally, governors with designs on the White House, such as Andrew Cuomo and Martin O’Malley, are putting forward packages of strict state-level gun laws in the apparent belief that it will boost them among core Dem constituencies in the 2016 primary. Gun control may be the new litmus test issue for Democrats.
The larger story here, as I’ve noted before, is that ongoing demographic shifts may mean that certain cultural issues just aren’t as treacherous for Democrats as they once were. The old formulation that Dems need to fear the “God, guns, and gays” trilogy may be increasingly inoperative. We’ve seen a big swing in public sentiment on gay marriage in recent years, and when President Obama came out for it, the widely predicted backlash just never materialized. The same may be happening with gun control: The groups who are increasingly important to Democrats just don’t see it as a highly charged cultural issue that goes to core questions about the nature of freedom and American identity, and perhaps increasingly see gun violence as a policy problem that calls for a rational government response.
So keep an eye on how red state Dems handle the coming fight. It may prove surprising.