The Myth of NRA Power: What the NRA Really Means in American Politics Today

By Douglas E. Schoen, Founder, Douglas E. Schoen, LLC

“My family commissioned this study, conducted by Douglas E. Schoen, in the Spring of 2013, approximately four months after the shooting at The Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. We have been waiting to release this report until a time when the issue of gun violence was back in the public’s eye. That time is now with President Obama taking executive action on gun control. In short, this report looks into the facts around the reality and the myth of the NRA.” — Kenneth Lerer

Note: This study is a personal project of Mr. Lerer’s and does not reflect the views of any business affiliations he may have.

Executive Summary of Key Findings

The following memo, prepared by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, seeks to prove, via an examination and analysis of both qualitative and quantitative data collected over the past several election cycles, along will research pulled from a number of sources, that the widely held assumption that the NRA is a strong determining force and factor in elections is, in fact, a serious overstatement of the extent of the group’s influence.

This document will examine a number of questions:

● What is the NRA’s actual influence on the outcome of elections?

● Has this influence been overstated or misrepresented?

● Does the NRA play the determinative role in politics that they want people to believe they do?

● Does the NRA really represent the views of a significant percentage of the American populace — or even the views of its own members?

We believe that the following document presents a compelling argument, based on an aggregation of outside source material and original, in-house analysis performed using data obtained from OpenSecrets.com (a public database of the Center for Responsive Politics), that the NRA’s role in elections is limited, that their influence is also limited, and that their financial role is far less substantial than people think. Indeed, this compilation and analysis substantiates a number of important conclusions regarding the power and magnitude of NRA spending, the influence of NRA endorsements and grades, and the power of the NRA to truly effectuate the election outcomes it desires.

In short, the National Rifle Association’s reputation as an all-powerful, unstoppable force with deep pockets and near-unlimited spending power is one of the biggest misperceptions in American politics.

Our analysis of the NRA’s role in the recent 2012 election cycle yielded the following key findings:

1. While the NRA was technically successful in either backing or opposing 52% of the candidates they spent money on in 2012, 92.53% [$18,267,293] of the money the NRA spent during the election cycle was directed towards races in which they were unsuccessful, indicating that the NRA’s power to influence elections is far less substantial than previously thought. [1]

2. When spending more than $100,000 on candidates in 2012, the NRA was only successful in effecting the outcome it desired in 3 cases, and was unsuccessful in 12 (a win rate of only 20%), indicating that even when the NRA puts the full force of its PAC and its lobbying arm behind an election, it has little decisive sway, and is deeply unpredictable. [2]

The chart below illustrates the NRA’s low rate of return with regard to the 15 candidates at whom the full force of NRA spending was applied (over $100,000 was dispensed) in 2012. A desirable outcome for the NRA is highlighted in green, while candidates who either won or lost despite the NRA’s best efforts are shown in red. [3]

3. By presenting unqualified data regarding their wins and losses — and neglecting to note the minor nature of most of their contributions — the NRA is able to look as if it has far greater influence than it truly possesses. For instance, in 2012 the group took credit for 5 electoral victories in races where they spent under $100. The NRA uses this skewed and deceptive “win rate” number in order to instill fear in lawmakers.

4. The NRA’s moderate overall success rate in 2012 is derived from making low risk bets regarding endorsements and financial contributions.

Key takeaways from a study of the 2010 election cycle:

1. The NRA does appear to have had a successful election cycle in 2010 — the group received the outcome it desired in 85 of the 137 races it invested in, and successfully supported or opposed 12 of the 20 candidates on whom they spent over $100,000.[4]

However, of the 20 races in which the NRA spent more than $100,000, 11 were won by margins of victory greater than 10%, indicating that they were relatively safe races in which the NRA’s role was likely negligible.

2. In races where the NRA was highly invested, the group was not their candidate’s largest source of funding. In high profile races in which the NRA has taken credit for their candidates’ success, such as Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, the NRA’s contributions are, in fact, minimal in comparison with total spending. The NRA’s funding made up less than 10% of Toomey’s total spending, and was dwarfed by the combined spending of other conservative groups. The NRA also made major financial commitments in the races that put now-Senator Roy Blunt (R) in office in Missouri and now-Senator Ron Johnson (R) in office in Wisconsin, however, the group was not the largest spender in either race.[5]

3. Notably, some of the NRA’s top recipients in the Senate lost their races — the NRA spent $746,078 trying to elect Ken Buck in Colorado, $414,100 trying to elect Dino Rossi in Washington, and $258,323 in an attempt to elect Carly Fiorina in California.[6]

4. Thus, NRA funding — or a lack thereof — hardly dictated who won and who lost in 2010.[7]

5. Furthermore, the 2010 midterm elections were not only relatively good for the NRA, with respect to the election of candidates who were receptive to NRA positions and views, they were good for Republicans in general — the party picked up 63 seats in Congress — suggesting that what seems like an NRA success is, in fact, simply the result of a larger shift in political tides and strong anti-Obama sentiment.

And finally, findings regarding the NRA’s overall role in the past several election cycles can be summed up in the following 8 conclusions:

1. The NRA’s record has been far from successful in recent election cycles — while the NRA did achieve the outcome it desired in 52% of the races it participated in, at any level, in 2012, the group only had a 20% success rate in races in which they spent more than $100,000 in support of or in opposition to a candidate.

2. NRA endorsements are almost meaningless in terms of electoral success. The NRA overwhelming endorses candidates that are already guaranteed to win — 86% of NRA endorsements between 2004 and 2010 went to (frequently popular) incumbents, and a full 106 went to candidates with no opponent — which pads their numbers with successes that had nothing to do with group. Between 2004 and 2010 only 4 NRA-endorsed candidates (out of 1,038) received bumps in the polls that could both be attributed to the endorsement, and caused them to win their election.[8]

3. The NRA does not spend as much as it seems to — indeed, it dispensed only $1.5 million in direct campaign contributions in 2012, putting it in 230th place among lobbying groups — and NRA contributions have virtually no impact on the outcome of Congressional races.

While the NRA did dispense a total of $19.7 million (a figure that includes independent expenditures) during the 2012 election cycle, most of this money was spent on races in which the NRA not able to influence the outcome they desired: only 7.47% of the $19.7 million spent by the group was spent on races in which the NRA-backed candidate won — which means that a full 92.53% [$18,267,293] of their spending did not meaningfully affect the outcome of their candidate’s race.

Indeed, the NRA ranked 24th out of 29 of the top independent expenditure groups in 2012, in terms of return on investment[9] (liberal groups are highlighted in blue, conservative in red):

4. The grades that the NRA gives lawmakers — they are scored on a scale of A+ to F — do not have the negative, determinative effect on the outcome of races that so many in Washington think they do. Of the 33 Senate races that transpired in 2012, there were 26 races in which NRA grades were assigned to both the Democrat and Republican running, and in which there was a substantial difference in the grades assigned to each candidate. Of these races, 20 candidates who had lower NRA grades than their opponents won their elections, while only 6 of the candidates with a higher NRA score than their opponent won theirs.

5. The NRA did not play a determining role in the election of a Republican House in 1994, nor in Al Gore’s loss of his home state of Tennessee in 2000, as is commonly thought.[10] These claims are a contributing factor to the myth of NRA influence, and, importantly, these claims are false — the NRA neither delivered the House, nor the Presidency, to Republicans.

6. The NRA and especially NRA leadership are becoming increasingly divorced from both their members and the American populace in general. Furthermore, the strength of America’s “gun culture” — a perception that the NRA both feeds and preys upon — is greatly exaggerated, and not as unqualified and absolute as the NRA would have the public believe. A national poll performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC in December 2012, found that 91% of all respondents interviewed favored universal background checks, along with a full 86% of NRA members.

7. Moreover, the NRA opposition to background checks reposes on a fundamental contradiction. While the NRA has long repeated that “people, not guns, are the problem,” background checks protect Americans and American families against the people that commit senseless acts of violence-criminals and the mentally ill — background checks, by nature, go after the people who are predisposed towards violence, not guns. And yet the NRA opposes these types of measures.

8. Finally, the strength of the NRA, beyond the power of its reputation, lies in the unified, targeted, continuous, and rigorously deployed nature of its messaging, and the group’s clear presentation of the supposed “rewards” of supporting NRA positions, and the negatives that accompany deviating from the NRA policy position. The gun violence prevention movement has yet to articulate a comparably succinct, unified platform or a comparable easy-to-understand, clearly delineated system of punishment vs. reward.


Thus, we have found that contrary to popular opinion, the NRA does not have the influence they think they do, the NRA’s record has been far from successful in recent election cycles, and the much-coveted NRA endorsements are almost meaningless in terms of success at the polls.

The NRA has been able to retain its position in the public consciousness and continue to influence the outcomes it wants in Congress because it has a reputation for being able to determine the outcome of elections, should it choose to participate in a race. However, as we will describe in this memo, there is truly minimal evidence that supports this perception — in fact, an examination of data from the past several election cycles indicates precisely the opposite.

The NRA operates via perceived power, rather than actual political clout or effective campaigning, and is adept at capitalizing, in terms of advertising high win rates in election cycles, on the natural ebbs and flows of the overall political landscape. Further, the NRA itself helps to propagate the myth of its power and infallibility, as does the media, whether intentionally or not.

These factors make an examination of data from past races even more important, as the data supports a vastly different view of NRA power and influence.

A note regarding source material :

In constructing this document, we have sought to include a truly compressive sampling of the available sources and data.

All analysis pertaining to the 2012 election, the 2010 election, and the NRA grading system is new and original. In calculating the NRA’s campaign contributions and expenditures (both direct and indirect funding) we have used the raw numbers reported by OpenSecrets Center for Responsible Politics[11], and then performed an original analysis in which we calculated figures relating to how much money was spent, where it was spent, and, from there, the the NRA rate of success in recent cycles and rate of return on investments. NRA grades were found on the NRA’s website.

We have also used data from Paul Waldman’s exhaustive and well-received study of the NRA role in elections from 2004 to 2010, with the author’s permission, and his excellent and comprehensive study of the effects of NRA endorsements from 2004 to 2010 has been incorporated, in full, into this work.

Additionally, in the weeks and months since the Newtown shooting, Douglas E. Schoen, LLC conducted a number of both national and state-wide polls in which we measured both the general climate surrounding guns and gun control, as well as Americans’ attitudes about specific measures, events, and groups, such as the NRA and advocates of gun violence prevention. These findings have also been incorporated into our conclusions.

Other notable sources include Gary C. Jacobson’s 1996 study of the NRA’s role in the 1994 midterms — “The 1994 House Elections in Perspective” — for Political Science Quarterly , as well as a range of sources pertaining to the 2000 Presidential election, including the author’s first-hand experience in that campaign cycle. We have also drawn on Bruce Roger’s analysis of the NRA’s strategic and organizational strengths from his article “NRA Winning the Influence Battle Over Gun Control,” published in Forbes in April 2013, as well as the Appinions’ (a data-mining company that measures influence) analysis and infographics illustrating the NRA’s communications strategy and structure that Rogers utilizes in the above-mentioned article.

The True Extent of NRA Influence: General Overview

It is widely assumed that the recent failure of the modest, bipartisan background check bill that would have expanded background checks for gun buyers — a measure that has the support of 90% of all Americans — is due to the intense lobbying efforts of gun rights groups, and the National Rifle Association in particular.

Indeed, the NRA has taken, and been given, credit for the failure of background checks in Congress. It is assumed that the strength of their lobbying arm and the grip the group holds over members of Congress was effective in convincing lawmakers that background checks were a losing measure, and that support of the bill would severely hamper their future prospects for reelection.

Senator Joe Manchin (D-W. VA), co-author of the bill, has said himself that the key moment in determining the bill’s failure was the NRA’s announcement that it would count a Senator’s “yes” or “no” vote on the gun rights scorecard that it sends to its members.[12]

Tellingly, the NRA had declined to “score” the earlier vote that brought the bill to the table in the first place, and that measure received 68 votes, well over number it needed. However, after the NRA announced that they would, in fact, be scoring the vote on the key amendment on background checks, a full 14 Senators who had previously voted “yes” to bringing the legislation to the Senate floor removed their support from the bill, and voted an NRA-friendly “no” on background checks.

It is probably partially, if not totally the case, that the NRA’s April 10th statement calling the Manchin-Toomey amendment “misguided,” and effectively warning Senators that a positive vote would count against them in the upcoming election cycle (“…given the importance of these issues, votes on all anti-gun amendments or proposals will be considered in the NRA’s future candidate evaluations”), played a major role in the failure of the background check bill, and furthermore, it illustrates plainly and clearly the real fear that lawmakers feel with regard to the NRA.

However, this fear is misplaced. Washington takes NRA threats very seriously, but they are mistaken in doing so — despite the group’s reputation and its rhetoric, the NRA has no real teeth.

Popular opinion has long portrayed the NRA as a potent force in elections — a force whose resources are seemingly limitless, and whose negative attention means almost certain defeat for the candidate at whom the organization’s resources are aimed.

However, research shows that there is little true substance to back this conception of the NRA and its role in elections: studies have evaluated the races that the NRA has participated in over the past 20 years, and conclusions show that the NRA has little to no discernible impact on the elections they compete in.

For instance, at first glance, the NRA appears to have had a successful election cycle in 2012. In order to quickly convey its success in influencing electoral outcomes, the NRA Political Victory Fund (the group’s PAC) uses a measurement called a win-rate, which is simply the number of races in which the final outcome was the outcome the NRA desired, divided by the total number of races it was financially involved in that year. In 2012, the NRA PVF donated money either in support of or in opposition to 138 candidates, and achieved the outcome it wanted 72 out of 138 times, yielding a win-rate of about 52%[13] — a moderate rate of success.

However, this 52% is a deceptive figure. While the NRA did spend money on 138 candidates in 2012 (three of whom were not actually participating in elections), its expenditures and contributions were, for the most part, so small as to be almost insignificant. Indeed, out of the 138 candidates that both the NRA’s Political Victory Fund and the Institute for Legislative Action (the NRA’s lobbying arm) directed money towards, there were only 15 candidates on whom they spent more than $100,000.

Moreover, only 3 of these large NRA expenditures were successful — those supporting Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and opposing Richard Lugar (R-IN). The NRA was unsuccessful in achieving its aims in the remaining 12 races, yielding a win-rate of only 20%.[14]

Chart 1

Furthermore, according to Paul Waldman’s data analysis and attendant series for ThinkProgress.org (a blog and project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund), the NRA’s low rate of success in big races is not unique to this most recent election cycle: between 2004 and 2010, there were only 22 Senate races in which the NRA spent over $100,000 on independent expenditures, and of these in 22 separate Senate races the NRA was only successful in 10 — a 45% rate of success.[15]

Chart 2

While the NRA pads its numbers by taking credit for elections in which they contributed only negligible amounts — in 2012 they took credit for 7 electoral victories in races where they spent under $100 — data shows that in truly competitive races, where the NRA spends more than $100,000, and where they are a real, substantial presence, their win-rate is below 50%.

Additionally, the NRA has a remarkably low rate of return on investment for an organization of its stature. . For instance, compared toAs we have said, in 2012 the NRA had a win rate of 20% in elections in which it spent more than $100,000 in 2012, but tellingly, the NRA had a measly only a 3.73% Return on Investment (ROI) on these same candidates: t. That is, of the $18,212,519 spent on 15 these candidates in 2012, only 3.73% of the money the group dispensed — $680,171 — went towards the 3 candidates they successfully supported or defeated.

Some may say that these numbers exaggerate the NRA’s extraordinarily low Return on Investment in 2012, as much of this spending did come from the very large sums spent unsuccessfully on the presidential election — where the NRA truly went “all in,” and lost — but the numbers do not look much better when controlled for this race. The NRA would still have a win-rate of just 23.08% and an ROI of 11.16% on elections in which they spent over $100,000 if they had spent nothing on the presidential election.[16]

It is the NRA’s deceptively high rate of success in determining electoral outcomes that has allowed the group to convince lawmakers that gun violence prevention is a losing issue, when in reality, the group is remarkably ineffective at influencing elections in its favor: in 2012, the group spent $1,468,100 total in successfully opposing and supporting candidates, compared to the massive $18,267,293 it spent on candidates in races where the NRA did not receive the electoral outcome it

desired. Successful spending accounted for only 7.47% of all the money the NRA spent during the 2012 election cycle. [17]

Chart 3

In promoting a padded win-rate over rate of return on investment, the NRA fosters the pretense that it is highly effective at campaigning.[18]

Moreover, the NRA does not spend as much money on election cycles as many think that it does — it dispensed just under $1.5 million in direct campaign contributions in 2012, putting it in 230th place among organizations who contributed to that year’s elections [19] — and perceptions of the magnitude (and influence) of its expenditures are vastly overblown.

Although the NRA does spend a significant amount of money in total — $19.7 million during the 2012 election cycle — the group spreads its money around to hundreds of races around the country, meaning that the average NRA contribution is not large enough to impact voter opinion, or the outcome of an election, in any meaningful way.

Chart 4[20]

While the NRA is less than effective in influencing the electoral outcomes it desires, spends far less than most think that it does, and spends that money neither wisely, nor well, studies covering up to 7 election cycles also show that an NRA endorsement, so coveted by so many politicians, is meaningless in all but one very specific circumstance.

Although candidates eagerly seek these endorsements, they have no appreciable impact on the final outcome of races. The seemingly positive impact of NRA endorsements is a product of their backing of popular incumbents who stand little to no chance of losing: between 2004 and 2010 85% of NRA-endorsed candidates were incumbents, and 65% of endorsed candidates who won their elections won by margins of 20 points or more — indicating that they were always going to win their race, and that the NRA’s endorsement had no impact on that outcome, whatsoever. [21]

Charts 5 and 6

According to Waldman’s analysis of the 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 election cycles, only one group saw a bump that could be attributed directly to the endorsement: “Republican challengers who get endorsed when they run against Democratic incumbents do about 2 percentage points better than similar candidates who don’t get the endorsement.[22]

When broken down, of the 1038 endorsements made by the NRA between 2004 and 2010, only 56 endorsed candidates fall into the group of Republican challengers facing a Democratic incumbent. Of these 56 candidates, only 19 who won their elections, and of these 19 only 4 won by margin of less than 4% (where without the NRA’s 2% endorsement bump, they may have lost).[23]Indeed, out of the 1,038 candidates for the House it endorsed between 2004 and 2010, the NRA can only claim their endorsement affected the final outcome of the election in 4 of those races.[24]

Chart 7

Lastly, when it comes to the NRA scoring system, many lawmakers’ fears are largely misplaced — our study of the 2012 election cycle shows that NRA grades do not have the determinative effect on the outcome of races that so many in Washington think they do.

In 2012, there were 33 Senate elections across the United States. Of these 33 races, there were 26 in which NRA grades were assigned to both the Democrat and Republican running, and in which there was a substantial difference in the grades assigned to each candidate — such as a “D” versus an “A” rating.[25]

Assuming that NRA scores have the power to sway voter opinion — the influence that is accorded these scores by lawmakers — it should follow that a majority of these races should have been won by the candidate with a higher NRA rating. However, the opposite is true: of these 26 races, 20 candidates who had lower NRA grades than their opponents won their elections, while only 6 of the candidates with a higher NRA score than their opponent won theirs.

While the 6 races in which a higher graded candidate defeated a lower graded candidate were concentrated in the western and southwestern part of the United States, it is clear that the fear provoked by the NRA’s announcement that they would include the vote on the Manchin-Toomey background check amendment when calculating these scores should not have been as powerful as it was in influencing lawmakers’ actions.

Chart 8

In short, when it comes to elections, the NRA is a paper tiger: the group’s reputation as an all-powerful, unstoppable force with deep pockets and near-unlimited spending power is one of the biggest misperceptions in American politics.

Lawmakers fear getting on wrong side of the NRA, and take its power and political clout at face value. The group’s threat of incorporating a positive vote for background checks into pre-election evaluations made members of the United States Senate fear both a potential NRA-funded smear campaign, and for their reelection prospects.

However, there is little concrete evidence that supports the current assumption that a self-preserving legislator must pander to the Gun Lobby, and back down in the face of NRA threats.

When one looks at the facts, the following conclusions become clear: the NRA is generally not successful in truly competitive races — it tends to be successful where the NRA-backed candidates’ success was, essentially, already secured — NRA endorsements do not have the positive effect that they are so pervasively assumed to have, the NRA does not spend as much money as the public thinks it does, and, furthermore, the organization does not have a strong track record when it comes to using the money it does spend, or its influence, in competitive elections.

What follows is a further discussion of these findings.

The NRA’s Ability to Influence Electoral Outcomes

Although the NRA Political Victory Fund boasts on the homepage of its website that it had an impressive 85% “win-rate” — the total number of races it contributed to divided by number of races in which it successfully backed a candidate — in 2008,[27] the NRA’s actual overall level of effectiveness is much lower than that.

In 2010, this “win-rate” number fell to 62%, and in 2012 it dropped even further, to 52%.[27] Furthermore, these already-lackluster numbers are deceiving. While the NRA did, overall, receive over 50% of the outcomes it desired in the 2010 and 2012 elections cycles, the group was extremely inefficient at dispensing and allocating campaign funds — in 2012, only 7.43% of the money spent by both arms of the NRA was spent backing winning candidates and opposing losing candidates [28] — and furthermore, NRA funding and endorsements had little to no impact on the outcome of the majority of the elections that they participated in in 2010 and 2012. [29]

Finally, in 2010 and 2012 the NRA was highly unsuccessful in the truly competitive elections that they participated in — elections in which the NRA spent real money, and where they were a real substantial presence in the race.

2012 Election Expenditures

Key takeaways from 2012:

1. While the NRA technically won 52% of the races in which they contributed money, 92.53% [$18,267,293] of the money the NRA spent on the election was directed towards races in which they were unsuccessful, indicating that the NRA’s power to influence elections is far less substantial than previously thought. [30]

2. When spending more than $100,000 on candidates in 2012, the NRA was only successful in effecting the outcome it desired in 3 cases, and was unsuccessful in 12 (a win rate of only 20%), indicating that even when the NRA puts the full force of its PAC and its lobbying arm behind an election, it has little decisive sway, and is deeply unpredictable. [31]

3. Beyond the 15 major expenditures (over $100,000) the NRA made in 2012, in which they spent — unsuccessfully — 18,212,519 of their total $19.7 million dispensed, the average NRA contribution was only $12,540 — and this where the NRA picked up 69 of the 72 victories it took credit for.

4. The NRA uses a skewed and deceptive “win rate” number in order to instill fear in lawmakers. By presenting unqualified data regarding their wins and losses — and neglecting to note the minor nature of most of the contributions — the group is able to look as if it has far greater influence than it truly possesses.

5. The NRA’s overall success rate is derived from making low risk bets regarding endorsements and financial contributions.

The NRA’s campaign spending is broken up into three main arms: the NRA’s PAC, known as the Political Victory Fund (PVF), the organization’s lobbying group, known as the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA), and the NRA itself. Chris Cox, the chief lobbyist for the NRA, is both the Executive Director of the Institute for Legislative Action, and the Chairman of the NRA Political Victory Fund.

All told, the NRA dispensed $19.7 million in political spending in the 2012 election cycle — $11.2 million through its Political Victory Fund, $7.5 million through lobbying efforts with the Institute for Legislative Action, and an additional $1.2 million dispensed by the NRA itself.

At first glance, the NRA appears to have had a successful election cycle in 2012. The group contributed financially to 138 races — either in support of or in opposition to a candidate — and achieved its desired outcome 72 times, for a win-rate of about 52% — a moderate rate of success, compared to other groups. [32]

Chart 9

While the NRA did receive its desired electoral outcome 52% of the time in 2012, further analysis shows that this number does not accurately reflect the impact that the group had on these races, and is, in fact, an extremely deceptive number.

Yes, the NRA did contribute financially to the 138 races, as discussed above, but its expenditures and contributions were all relatively small: out of the 138 races that both the NRA’s Political Victory Fund and the Institute for Legislative Action participated in, there were only 15 candidates on whom they spent more than $100,000 (either in support of pro-gun candidates or in opposition to Democrats who expressed an openness to new gun violence prevention legislation). Furthermore, these large NRA expenditures were only successful for 3 out of these 15 candidates — or win-rate of only 20%.[33]

Chart 10

Put another way, in races where the NRA invested significant funds, and where they were fully committed, they achieved their desired outcome only 20% of the time.

A closer look at the NRA’s three major victories in 2012 — races where they invested over $100,000 — is revealing in its own right.

In the first, the NRA spent $346,902 in support of Arizona Republican Jeff Flake in his Senate race against Democrat Richard Carmona. [34] Flake defeated Carmona by a margin of more than 5 percentage points.[35] While the NRA did make a highly substantial investment in this race, their contribution is dwarfed by that of conservative group the Club for Growth, which provided Flake with $1,000,112[36] in funding — 3 times the NRA’s contribution. Furthermore, Flake was the recipient of over 9 million dollars[37] (nearly 26 times the NRA’s investment) in contributions and independent expenditures during the 2012 election cycle. Yes, the NRA’s favored candidate won — but to what extent can the NRA truly take credit for that victory?

The NRA’s second victory in 2012 is derived from their opposition to 6-term Indiana Senator, Richard Lugar (R) in the Republican Primary. The group spent $216,921[38] opposing Lugar, who lost to Richard Mourdock in the Republican Primary — a victory for the NRA. However, several months later, Mourdock proceeded to lose to Democrat Joe Donnelly in the general election, after Mourdock, a severe social conservative, made several off-color comments that were picked up by the press. Thus, the anti-Lugar expenditure, designed to elect an official who was more staunchly anti-gun beliefs to office, was essentially self-defeating for the NRA.[39]

The NRA’s third and final successful major expenditure in 2012 was the $116,348 ($97,848 from the NRA’s PAC and $18,500 from the NRA itself)[40] the organization spent supporting Republican incumbent Orrin Hatch in his race for reelection. As with Senator Flake, the NRA’s contribution was considerable, but is dwarfed by the total amount that Hatch’s reelection campaign raised over the course of the election — $11,577,851. Furthermore, according to OpenSecrets, in 2012 Hatch’s campaign received $424,000 in funding from the Energy & Natural Resources sector, $750,645 from the Finance, Insurance & Real Estate sector, and $912,625 from the Health sector.[41] The NRA’s spending pales in comparison.

The NRA’s remaining major expenditures of 2012 did not succeed — the NRA-favored candidates were defeated. The NRA earmarked $880,850 to oppose Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, another $626,122 to defeat Senator Bill Nelson, D-Florida, and $612,441 to oppose Senate candidate Tim Kaine of Virginia. All three won their races. [42] The NRA also spent nearly $3.3 million in support Mitt Romney (and more than $10 million opposing President Obama).

Furthermore, the NRA’s ineffectiveness in influencing electoral outcomes, even when they make large financial commitments, is thrown into even sharper relief when you consider that in 2012 the NRA spent $18,212,519 — or 92.23% — of their total spending on just 15 candidates (out of the 138 elections they participated in on any level), and had a Return on Investment of just 3.73% with regard to these 15 expenditures.[43]

The chart below illustrates the NRA low rate of return with regard to the 15 candidates at whom the full force of NRA spending was applied (over $100,000 was dispensed). A desirable outcome for the NRA is highlighted in green, while candidates who either won or lost despite the NRA’s best efforts are shown in red. [44]

Table 1:

Further, while most of this spending did come from the very large sums spent unsuccessfully on the presidential election — where the NRA truly went “all in,” and lost — the numbers do not look much better when controlled for this race. The NRA would still have a win-rate of just 23.08% and an ROI of 11.16% on elections in which they spent over $100,000 if they had spent nothing on the presidential election.[45]

Thus, it becomes clear that the NRA is a master of making small, safe bets on candidates who are likely to win, such as incumbents, those from heavily conservative districts, or even candidates without challengers. Beyond the 15 major expenditures the NRA made in 2012, in which they spent — unsuccessfully — 18,212,519 of their total $19.7 million dispensed, the average NRA contribution was only $12,540 — and this where the NRA picked up 69 of the 72 victories it took credit for.

Even more tellingly, in 2012 the NRA spent less than $10,000 (indeed, its average was $2,649) on 78 races and picked up 48, or a full two-thirds of its victories (62%), despite playing little, if any role in the races’ outcomes. [46]

It is this strategy that is responsible for the high rates of success (although 2012’s 52% should be less than intimidating) that the NRA uses to threaten Congress and prevent the passage of new gun legislation. These deceptively high rates of success have allowed the group to convince lawmakers that gun violence prevention is a losing issue, when in fact, the group is remarkably ineffective at influencing elections in its favor: in 2012, the group successfully spent $1,474,493 either opposing or supporting candidates, compared to the $18,267,293 spent on candidates in races where the NRA was not able to influence a favorable outcome. Successful spending accounts for only 7.47% of all the money the NRA dispensed during the 2012 election cycle. [47]

Chart 11

Indeed, a study of the facts shows that the NRA was, contrary to popular opinion, largely ineffective in its efforts to influence electoral outcomes in 2012, most notably in races in which it invested significant funds. Furthermore, the 2012 election cycle demonstrates that the group’s seemingly high win-rate does not reflect any real, decisive influence. An additional statistical analysis (largely performed by Paul Waldman) of the NRA’s participation in elections between 2004 and 2010, discussed later in this document, supports these findings, and offers further proof that the NRA’s ability to sway elections is both highly limited in terms of real, decisive power, and only applicable in very specific circumstances.[48]

2010 Election Expenditures

Key Takeaways from 2010:

1. The NRA does appear to have had a successful election cycle in 2010 — the group received the outcome it desired in 85 of the 137 races it invested in, and successfully supported or opposed 12 of the 20 candidates on whom they spent over $100,000.

2. However, of the 20 races in which the NRA spent more than $100,000, 11 were won by margins of victory greater than 10%, indicating that the NRA’s role was likely negligible.

3. In races where the NRA was highly invested, the group was not their candidate’s largest source of funding. In high profile races in which the NRA has taken credit for their candidates’ success, such as Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, the NRA’s contributions are, in fact, minimal in comparison with total spending. The NRA’s funding made up less than 10% of Toomey’s total spending, and was dwarfed by the combined spending of other conservative groups. The NRA also made major financial commitments in the races that put now-Senator Roy Blunt (R) in office in Missouri and now-Senator Ron Johnson (R) in office in Wisconsin, however, the group was not the largest spender in either race.[49]

4. Notably, some of the NRA’s top recipients in the Senate lost their races — the NRA spent $746,078 trying to elect Ken Buck in Colorado, $414,100 trying to elect Dino Rossi in Washington, and $258,323 in an attempt to elect Carly Fiorina in California.

5. Thus, NRA funding — or a lack thereof — hardly dictated who won and who lost in 2010.[50]

6. Furthermore, the 2010 midterm elections were not only relatively good for the NRA, with respect to the election of candidates who were receptive to NRA positions and views, they were good for Republicans in general — the party picked up 63 seats in Congress — suggesting that what seems like an NRA success is, in fact, simply the result of a larger shift in political tides and strong anti-Obama sentiment.

In 2010 the NRA spent $14,305,500 on 137 races. Data shows that the NRA won 85, or 69.4%, of the races in which they invested money in 2010. [51]

Chart 12

In 2010 the NRA appears to be more successful in instances where it spent large amounts of money than it would be in 2012. The group spent more than $100,000 on 20 different races (and also an additional $378,022 in opposition to Barack Obama in an off election year — this was not factored into any calculations since success or failure could not be determined), for a total of $12,410,823 [86.76% of all money spent in 2010]. The NRA’s Return on Investment for these candidates was 71.60%[52] — far better than 2012’s 3.73% return on investment for the candidates on whom they spent over $100,000.

Chart 13

The chart below illustrates the NRA’s success rate with regard to the 20 candidates at whom the full force of NRA spending was applied (over $100,000 was dispensed) in 2010. A desirable outcome for the NRA is highlighted in green, while candidates who either won or lost despite the NRA’s best efforts are shown in red.

Table 2[53]

These results seem to indicate that NRA had a successful campaign cycle in 2010, and that they were, in this cycle, able to influence the outcome of elections in the direction they desired. However — how much did the NRA really have to do with these results, and how much did they have to do with the general ebb and flow of political feeling, and the anti-Obama sentiment that was sweeping the country? It is impossible to say definitively, but there a number of points that are worth noting.

First, the House of Representatives experienced its lowest incumbent re-election rate since 1970: only 85%[54] of incumbents were re-elected, and a full 36 Democrats lost their seats to Republican challengers.[55] Similarly, the Senate also experienced a very low rate of incumbent re-election that year, at 84%.[56] Given this large rebalancing of Congressional power, it is more likely that many of the victories that the NRA has taken credit for are, in fact due, to larger political trends and dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Additionally, of the 20 races in which the NRA spent more than $100,000, 11 were won by margins of victory greater than 10%, indicating that the NRA’s role was likely negligible.

Furthermore, while the NRA did have a greater rate of success in 2010 than in 2012, the group’s success in the 2010 midterm elections was far less absolute than is frequently advertised. Once again, it is important to look at the composition of the 71.6% win rate, and what was actually going on in the races in which the group invested:

In 2010 the NRA’s two most expensive House races were in New Hampshire’s 2nd district, where the NRA spent $181,256 supporting Charlie Bass, a Republican, against the Democrat Ann McLane Custer (who would go on to unseat Bass in 2012), and in South Carolina’s 5th district, where the group spent $170,924 in support of Republican Mick Mulvaney in his race against Democratic incumbent John Spratt. While both Republicans did win their races, it is important to note the NRA was not the biggest spender in these races — other outside groups spent more than two times as much as the NRA, in the case of South Carolina Republican Mick Mulvaney. [57] This indicates that the NRA was not the dominant force in terms of spending or influence.

Additionally, in the NRA’s third most expensive House race, a race in which the NRA was highly invested, the group spent $157,839 in campaign spending in support of California Republican Andy Vidak — and Vidak lost.[58]

In the Senate, the NRA endorsed 23 Republicans and two Democrats. While the group did invest $1,706,872[59] in the Pennsylvania race that elected Republican Pat Toomey to office, the Toomey campaign raised $17,155,694[60] over the course of the 2010 election cycle — 10 times the NRA’s investment. The conservative group the Club for Growth also donated nearly a million dollars to Toomey’s campaign.[61] It is thus difficult to prove that the NRA had any truly determinative influence in Toomey’s successful campaign.

The NRA also made major financial commitments in the races that put now-Senator Roy Blunt (R) in office in Missouri and now-Senator Ron Johnson (R) in office in Wisconsin, however, again, the group was not the largest spender in either race.[62]

Notably, some of the NRA’s top recipients lost their races — the NRA spent $1,495,814 trying to elect Ken Buck in Colorado, $934,955 trying to elect Dino Rossi in Washington, and $135,835 in a failed attempt to elect Carly Fiorina in California.[63] Clearly, NRA funding — or a lack thereof — hardly dictated who won and who lost in 2010.[64]

Furthermore, while the NRA had a $243 million budget in 2010[65] — dwarfing all other gun groups — beyond a number of major expenditures in “target” races, the NRA provided minimal financial backing to the candidates they endorsed. NRA direct contributions to endorsed candidates made up, on average, only .2% of any given candidates’ total campaign funds in 2010[66], and these types of contributions were far too small to make any kind of important impact. Indeed, the NRA spread the millions it spent on the election cycle around to the extent that most of its contributions were too minimal to actually affect the outcome of a race.[67]

Finally, there is an additional reason that the NRA’s efforts were likely not the primary reason that a substantial number of NRA-backed candidates were elected to office in 2010.

The 2010 midterm elections were not only relatively good for the NRA, with respect to the election of candidates who were receptive to NRA positions and views, they were good for Republicans in general — the party picked up 63 seats in Congress — suggesting that what seems like an NRA success is, in fact, simply the result of a larger shift in political tides.

In 2010 Americans were expressing their dissatisfaction with the Democratic party in general, with President Obama, and with a slow economic recovery, and the shift towards Republicans (and, accordingly, towards candidates who are more likely to be receptive to NRA positions and views) was a result of a range of political issues and trends, and was not, as some would like to believe, a rejection of candidates whose views did not align with the NRA’s.

The Power of NRA Spending

While the NRA has spent a significant amount of money on elections through independent expenditures, it has failed to use this money wisely. Many groups, like Planned Parenthood, spend far less money but are much more efficient and see a greater return. Others, such as the NRA, and an even greater extent, conservative super PAC American Crossroads, dispense immense amount of money, but see little return on their investment, and have minimal real impact on elections. [68]

For example, in 2012 the independent expenditure group Service Employees International Union PEA — Federal spent only $5,306,123, but had an rate of Return on Investment of 91.20%[69], as it successfully directed $4,839,184 of the 5 million it spent. In contrast, that same year, the NRA had an ROI of 7.47% on $19,741,786, as it only spent $1,474,493[70] of its much larger expenditure successfully. Thus, with less money, the SEIU PEA got 330% more “bang for its buck.”

Chart 14

Since the 2010 Citizens United decision, groups have been given the opportunity to spend unlimited dollars on independent expenditures through entities like PACs and 501Cs. The NRA has, indeed, been among the top spenders in outside spending (independent expenditures), according to the data available through OpenSecrets. The group ranks ninth in terms of independent expenditures for both the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, having spent $34,554,723 in total.

Table 3

Still, the amount spent by the NRA is probably far lower than many would think, and is dwarfed by the expenditures of other groups such as American Crossroads, Restore Our Future, and even the US Chamber of Commerce, which spent twice as much in independent expenditures as the NRA did in 2010 and 2012. Furthermore, the NRA spends its money neither wisely, nor well, as we have discussed earlier — the vast majority of NRA contributions to candidates have virtually no impact on the outcome of congressional races, and independent expenditures by the NRA do not necessarily improve their chosen candidate’s chances of winning.[71]

It is easy to believe that the NRA has infinitely deep pockets, and the ability to spend large amounts either funding or opposing candidates according to their positions on guns.

However, this is a major misperception: in all election cycles between 1989 and 2012, the NRA has spent only $19,554,380 in direct campaign contributions. While the law does limit direct contributions, this puts the group in 50th place among all contributors.[72] Additionally, the average direct NRA campaign contribution between 2004 and 2010 — over 200 races — was only about $2,300, or about 0.20% of individual campaign budgets. [73]

Chart 15[74]

Most importantly, these types of small contributions are not large enough to impact voter opinion in any meaningful way.

Paul Waldman says of the NRA’s spending strategy:

“The truth… is that while the NRA spends a good deal of money in total, that money is spread over so many races…that it has little more than a symbolic effect…the group spreads its money around to hundreds of races across the country, meaning that no one race gets enough of an investment to determine the outcome. Yet Democrats continue to fear the NRA’s money.” [75]

Beyond these exceedingly small direct campaign contributions, NRA independent expenditures averaged only $10,000 for Senate races and $30,000 for House races between 2004 and 2010[76] — both relatively modest figures. Independent expenditures of this size make up a miniscule percentage of total campaign spending: in 2008 the average spent by House race winners was $1.4 million, and the average spent by a Senate race winner was $8.5 million.[77] Thus, the average NRA independent expenditure is far too small to impact a race in any real way, and consequently, there is no reason for NRA campaign contributions and funding to be as highly valued — or feared — as it is in Washington today.

Each election cycle, the NRA does tend to focus its money on a few key races, via independent expenditures, as we have noted in tables 1 (page 18) and 2 (page 22). In 2012, the average independent expenditure for the NRA was $143,056, and when you control for the outlying expenditures on the presidential race, this number falls to $44,800. [78] Furthermore, when you look at the candidates on whom they spent less than $100,000 (a full 123 of 138 candidates in 2012, and also where the NRA picked up 69 out of 72 of their victories that year), the average expenditure plummets to just $12,470. [79] Again, this is just pennies on the dollar of what goes into Congressional races — the NRA contributes a minimal, symbolic amount, and takes credit for the candidate’s success.

Thus, it is clear that the NRA’s reputation for universal big spending is a misrepresentation. However, when they do, occasionally, make major financial commitments to key races, the group’s reputation for both sizable and effective expenditures is also vastly overblown: between 2004 and 2010, the NRA backed only 22 candidates for Senate with more than $100,000, and of the those 22 candidates, only 10 won their races — a 45% rate of success. [80]

In truly competitive races, where the NRA spends real money, and where they are a real, substantial presence, their rate of return on their investments is below 50%.

Chart 16

Furthermore, even in the elections in which the NRA is fully invested — i.e., they have contributed more than $100,000 — and their favored candidate wins, there is no truly compelling evidence that NRA spending contributes to that victory.

For instance, the NRA’s second largest expenditure in 2010 was an investment of more than $1.5 million in favor of Missouri Senate candidate, Roy Blunt. The election was a blowout, with Blunt winning by a margin of 13.6 percent.[81] With such a large margin, the NRA effectively wasted their resources even though this would be counted towards the group’s successful ROI.

Additionally, as was mentioned earlier in this document, in 2010 the NRA contributed nearly $1.7 million in support of Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey in his race against Democrat Joe Sestak. The NRA has taken — and is accorded — a significant amount of credit for Toomey’s win, however, there is no true indication that the group was, in fact, responsible for the Republican’s victory.

While the NRA did contribute $1.7 million, now-Senator Toomey raised a total of $17 million over the course of his campaign, which is more than twice what his opponent spent (Sestak spent $7.5 million on his 2010 campaign) [82]. Furthermore, other conservative groups contributed over $14 million total to Toomey — over 8 times what the NRA spent — and the NRA was one of 62 outside groups that became involved in the election.

In other words, the NRA’s contribution in support of now-Senator Toomey’s campaign was their largest independent expenditure in 2010, and it only accounted for 10% of the total amount of money spent on the race.[83]

To further illustrate the lack of correlation between NRA funding and electoral victory, we have graphed the NRA’s ability to influence elections — amount spent versus ultimate outcome.

The graph below illustrates this lack of NRA effectiveness by graphing the margin of victory, or defeat, for candidates on whom the NRA spent more than $100,000 in the 2012 election cycle.

Dots in the green portion of the graphs indicate successful NRA expenditures, those in the red portion represent unsuccessful NRA expenditures.

Those with negative numbers (in the red half of the graph) did not necessarily lose, but indicate a negative outcome for the NRA. For instance, the NRA spent $880,850 opposing Sherrod Brown, who won by a margin of 6 points. This dot is located in the red portion of the graph because it was an unsuccessful expenditure for the NRA.

(Note: presidential candidates have been removed in order to make a clearer chart, and to control for exceptionally high expenditures made by the NRA. This, in fact, made the graph more positive for the NRA’s ability to succeed, as the Presidential election was the group’s most dramatic and expensive loss)

Chart 17[84]:

As can be seen, the graph does not appear to show any correlation between NRA spending and electoral success, and a linear model actually shows a negative correlation between NRA spending and the margin of victory for candidates (these models were removed for the sake of clarity).

Furthermore, and in addition to the low rate of success of its major expenditures, the NRA, as a whole, was among the least effective outside spending groups in the 2012 election, as only 7.47% of the funds it dispensed were directed towards winning candidates. [85]

As can be seen below, the NRA ranked 24th out of 29 of the top independent spending groups as identified by the Sunlight Foundation, in terms of both return on investment, and the amount of money successfully spent on candidates ($1,474,493).[86] However, despite spending the 11th most out of these groups, the NRA is one of the least successful outside spending groups out of any of the major players.

Table 4[87] (Ranked by descending rate of Return on Investment)

While a pattern of ineffective spending can be seen throughout Conservative PACS — 6 of the top 10 PACs in terms of the size of the funds dispersed fall to the right of the political spectrum, but none rank within the top 10 PACs with regard to effective spending — the NRA is both particularly ineffective at dispensing funds, and unexceptional in terms of the magnitude of its spending.

Throwing money at elections and hoping some sticks — and then taking credit for a win that is wholly unrelated to their support and contributions — seems to be the favored strategy of the NRA and of conservative outside spending groups as a whole. Candidates and members of Congress must look more critically at the NRA’s ability to truly, concretely influence elections, rather than reputation and seemingly big dollar signs. The NRA’s reputation for pouring money into the campaigns of those it supports and making massive buys against those who do not toe the NRA line is an assumption that falls apart upon an examination of the data, as does its rate of success at influencing electoral outcomes.

NRA Endorsements

In addition to the NRA’s relatively low level of effectiveness in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles and the minimal impact of NRA direct contributions, it has been found that, the much coveted NRA endorsement, is, in most cases, meaningless in terms of electoral success.[88]

NRA endorsements sometimes appear to be strong indicators of electoral victory, but this correlation is highly deceptive. In reality these endorsements provide little to no boost to candidates.

Data collected and analyzed by The American Prospect’s Paul Waldman shows that NRA endorsements do not have the positive power that many believe they possess, and that they have no appreciable impact on the final outcome on nearly every race. The seemingly positive impact of NRA endorsements is a product of the NRA’s strategy of backing of popular incumbents who stand little to no chance of losing — they would win with or without NRA support.[89]

The NRA endorsed about 250 candidates each year between 2004 and 2010, for a total of 1,038, over these four election cycles and had a high rate of successful backings. However, it is important to look at the makeup of the NRA-endorsed candidates:[90]

● Over this period 86% of NRA endorsements to the house went to (frequently popular) incumbents who were more likely to be re-elected.

● 65% went to candidates who won their races by a margin of 20 points, or more — indicating that the endorsements had little to nothing to do with the candidates’ electoral success.

● 106 went to candidates with no opponent. [91]

From 2004 to 2010, 84% of the candidates endorsed by the NRA won their races by a margin of 10 points or more, and as has been previously stated, a full 65% of NRA-endorsed candidates won their races by a margin of 20 points or more. This indicates that the NRA endorsement had little, if anything, to do with candidates’ victories — these candidates already had strong support and were going to win with or without the endorsement.[92]

Chart 18

As can be seen in the above chart, the NRA is more likely to back candidates who are already certain to win, rather than those participating in close races. This practice allows the NRA to exaggerate the correlation between and endorsement and a successful campaign for office when in fact, the relationship is coincidental rather than causal.

Furthermore, the NRA overwhelmingly endorses incumbents — incumbents with little to no chance of losing. Nearly 85% of all candidates the NRA endorsed between 2004 and 2010 were incumbents (and 66.7% were Republican incumbents).[93] This practice only serves to further solidify the misperception that an NRA endorsement gives candidates an advantage.

Chart 19

The NRA’s practice of overwhelmingly endorsing incumbents is particularly noteworthy, as studies have shown that the only candidates whose numbers rise in the polls after receiving an NRA endorsement are Republican challengers running against Democratic incumbents. These challengers receive, an average, 2% bump amongst voters. [94]

However, due to the NRA’s strategy of endorsing popular incumbents, only 56 of the 1,038 — a little over 5% — of candidates the NRA has endorsed between 2004 and 2010 have been Republican challengers running against Democratic incumbents. Thus, of the 1,038 NRA-endorsed candidates between 2004 and 2010, only these 56 Republican challengers received any kind of bump in the polls post endorsement — an average a small bump of around 2%.[95]

Of these 56 NRA-funded Republican challengers who received a small bump in polls due to the endorsement, 19 won their elections — a success rate of 34%.[96]

Chart 20

However, in order for the 2% bump to actually have had an impact on the outcome of the election, the NRA-backed candidate has to have won by a margin of 4% or less, a situation in which the two point swing the other way would have lead to their defeat.

Indeed, only 4 of those 19 winning candidates won their races by a margin of less than 4% — the threshold at which the 2% bump in the polls created by the NRA endorsement would actually influence the outcome of the election. [97]

Chart 21

Thus, the NRA can only claim to have directly determined the outcome of an election in 4 out of the 1,038 races in which it endorsed a candidate — a success rate of just 0.4%.

Chart 22

Paul Waldman says of the data:

“The NRA endorsement isn’t delivered as a saving grace to a candidate struggling in a tough race…. Instead, the typical NRA endorsee is a Republican incumbent from a strong conservative district strolling to an easy victory. […] The NRA endorsement is mostly a reward for past service. The NRA…even donated money to 96 candidates with no opponent… The prevailing beliefs about NRA endorsements are more mythology than reality.” [98]

NRA endorsements remain highly coveted by candidates for office, but they shouldn’t be, as they only influence the outcome of an election .4% of the time. NRA endorsements are yet another component of the myth of NRA power — Washington and the media sets great store by these endorsements, and tout their ability to sway public opinion. However, upon further inspection, they possess no real clout, and no real deciding power in elections.

The NRA Scoring System

In an effort to “hold legislators accountable,” the NRA produces grades based on lawmakers’ voting records on gun issues. Grades are distributed on an A+ through F scale; the majority of grades are at the high-end or low-end of the spectrum, with few in the middle. An A+ rating indicates that a lawmaker or candidate possesses an “excellent” voting record on gun rights, while an F rating indicates to NRA members and voters that the individual is an “enemy” of Second Amendment rights.

Through this system, the NRA has solidified the hold is has on legislators. Because of the NRA’s clearly articulated guidelines regarding their scoring and grading system, lawmakers in Congress fear that any vote in favor of gun violence prevention — even one in favor of initiatives that have near universal public support, like background checks — will result in the NRA sabotaging their reelection prospects with an F rating during the next election cycle.

It was the NRA’s announcement that they would heavily count Senators’ votes on April’s gun control package towards their NRA score that played a major role in the failure of the background check bill: on April 10th, before the Manchin-Toomey amendment expanding the background check system went to the Senate floor, the NRA released a statement in which they called the legislation “misguided,” and effectively warning Senators that a positive vote would count against them in the upcoming election cycle (“…given the importance of these issues, votes on all anti-gun amendments or proposals will be considered in the NRA’s future candidate evaluations”).

Indeed, after the NRA announced that they would, in fact, be scoring the vote on the key amendment on background checks, a full 14 Senators who had previously voted “yes” to bringing the legislation to the Senate floor removed their support from the bill. Among this group were Republicans Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Richard Burr (NC), Saxby Chamblis (GA), Tom Coburn (OK), Jeff Flake (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC), Dean Heller (NV), John Hoeven (ND), Johny Isakson (GA), and Roger Wicker (MS). Additionally, it included Democratic Senators Max Baucus (MT), William Cowan (MA), and Heidi Heitkamp (ND).[99]

However, these Senators’ fear of receiving a lower NRA score is misplaced: our study of the 2012 election cycle shows that NRA grades do not have the determinative effect on the outcome of races that so many in Washington think they do.

In 2012, there were 33 Senate elections across the United States. Of these 33 races, there were 26 in which NRA grades were assigned to both the Democrat and Republican running, and in which there was a substantial difference in the grades assigned to each candidate — such as a “D” versus an “A” rating (3 races matched candidates with relatively even grades and 4 races were missing grades for at least one candidate, making them impossible to analyze).[100].

Assuming that NRA scores have the power to sway voter opinion that — the influence that is accorded these scores by lawmakers — it should follow that a majority of these races should have been won by the candidate with a higher NRA rating. However, the opposite is true: of these 26 races, 20 candidates who had lower NRA grades than their opponents won their elections, while only 6 of the candidates with a higher NRA score than their opponent won theirs.

Chart 23

With numbers like these, and with 90% support for universal background checks among US voters, Manchin-Toomey should not have failed in the Senate in the way it did, with nearly half of our US Senators voting “no.”

The following table details our findings:

While many of the races in which a candidate with a lower NRA grade defeated a candidate with a higher rating from the NRA did take place in states with populations that are traditionally more open to strengthening gun laws — California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, among others — a substantial number also took place in states where the NRA does have a hold on lawmakers.

In Florida “F” rated Bill Nelson defeated “A” rated Connie Mack IV, in Michigan “F” rated Debbie Stabenow defeated “A” rated Pete Hoekstra, in Minnesota “F” rated Amy Klobuchar defeated A rated Kurt Bills, Claire McCaskill’s “F” defeated Todd Akin’s “A”, in New Mexico “B” rated Martin Heinrich defeated “A” rated Heather Wilson. The list goes on: Sherrod Brown defeated Josh Mandel, Bob Casey Jr. won over Tom Smith in Pennsylvania, Tim Kaine defeated George Allen in Virginia and Tammy Baldwin won over “A” rated Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin.

It would appear that having a higher NRA grade does still have value in western states such as Nevada, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. However, “A” rated Dean Heller only defeated “F” rated Shelley Berkley by a narrow1.2% margin on election day, suggesting that the NRA’s low score was not devastating in a state with 40% gun ownership, as many would assume. Someone running for office in Nevada can have an “F” NRA score, and run a highly competitive campaign.

Furthermore, some of the Senators who were cowed into rejecting the Manchin-Toomey background check amendment are from states in which low NRA scores are not a deal breaker for voters — North Carolina (where “F” rated Kay Hagan defeated NRA-backed Elizabeth Dole in 2008), Massachusetts, and Maine (Although King does not have an NRA grade, he was far more open to gun violence prevention legislation then his 2012 Republican opponent, “A” rated Charlie Summers).

Additionally, many Senators in states where a low NRA grade has not lost a candidate their election (such as Louisiana, where “C” rated Mary Landrieu won in 2008, and Missouri, Wisconsin, and Florida) voted against the background check amendment — despite high levels of support for universal background checks in these states. These Senators have little excuse for their failure to truly represent their constituents.

The NRA & Republican Primary Elections

A frequently cited reason for continuing to fear the NRA’s potential role in elections is their power to influence primary elections — especially Republican primaries. The logic here is that should an incumbent deviate from NRA-approved policy and demonstrate an openness to stronger gun violence prevention laws, the NRA will field and throw its full weight behind a primary challenger, and ensure that the incumbent doesn’t even make it to the general election.

This tactic is feared by incumbents — especially Republican incumbents, as candidates’ level of support for second amendment rights is more likely to be a voting issue for Republican primary voters — as less money is traditionally spent in primaries, and a major, targeted ad buy by the NRA in favor of a more staunchly pro-gun opponent has the potential to be highly effective in a smaller race.

However, an examination of the NRA’s recent role in Republican primaries is illuminating.

It is true that the NRA has invested money in key Republican primary elections, in order to oust conservatives who do not fall in line with their platform. Indeed, the NRA is effective in this respect, given that, as we have said, primaries are more sensitive to large amounts of spending and also draw more extreme voters to the polls — voters who are more likely to be influenced by NRA messaging. However, while this strategy can both make the lives of incumbents difficult, and result in victory for the NRA-backed candidate, the victories it yields for the NRA can be short-lived: the group’s backing of extremely conservative candidates has backfired by ensuring that the Republican candidate who faces off against a Democrat is someone who is unelectable in a general election.

Although the NRA has been successful, in general, in ousting Republican incumbents during primaries, this practice has not only generated outcomes that are, in the end, contrary to the NRA’s interests — it has generated electoral outcomes that are contrary to the interests of the national Republican party, and to the interests of the wide swath of Americans who believe in fiscal conservatism and small government, but do not favor the extreme views of fringe groups.

In the following section we will examine four races from across the country which, while anecdotal, typify this trend.

Indiana Senate — 2012

One key primary race in which the above occurred was the 2012 Indiana Republican Primary for Senate between Richard Lugar and Richard Mourdock. In this race, the NRA Political Victory Fund alone (not including the NRA ILA or any other spending arm) spent $168,758 in opposition to Lugar in Indiana’s 2012 Republican Senate primary.[101]

Richard Lugar was a 35-year veteran of the Senate going into the 2012 election, and had handily won in 2006 with 87.4 percent of the vote.[102] While Lugar seemed to be falling in favorability during his final term, he still had a sizable advantage and lead over Republican opponent Richard Mourdock. In 2010, Lugar held a 66% to 14% advantage in favorability,[103] and a slightly smaller lead — 49% to 28% — with regard to favorability in November of 2011, when the NRA began its anti-Lugar campaign.[104]

The NRA, who had once given Lugar an “A” rating, opposed Lugar in favor of a more staunchly conservative candidate who would actively push a pro-gun agenda. Lugar had lost favor with the NRA due to his 1993 vote in favor of the Brady Handgun Violence prevention Act, his 1997 vote in favor of the Gun Free School Zone Act and the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, and his 2004 vote in favor of an amendment that would have closed the gun show loophole.[105] The NRA also strongly opposed Lugar’s votes to confirm Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The NRA ILA’s executive director, Chris W. Cox, said of the Indiana primary race: “we haven’t engaged in many primary elections but I have to tell you, this decision was easy. Richard Mourdock is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and Lugar is not. Lugar got his ‘F’ rating from the NRA the old fashioned way, he earned it.”

Targeted support from the NRA was, indeed, enough to knock Lugar out of the primaries by a margin of 60% to 40%, ending his 35-year, bipartisan career. [106] The NRA’s support raised Mourdock’s name recognition and profile to a level where he was able to defeat a longterm incumbent.

However, Richard Mourdock was a highly polarizing figure, which put him at a disadvantage going into the general election. Mourdock’s unelectability in a general election became fully clear when he made his infamous comments on rape, saying that “when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”[107] The comment sent his disapproval rating soaring, from an evenly split 38% approval and 38% disapproval, to 36.7% approval and 51.3% disapproval by election day.[108]

Chart 24

On November 6th Mourdock lost the general election to Democrat Joe Donnelly by a margin of 50% to 44%,[109] making him the first Democrat to win a statewide race in Indiana in more than a decade.[110] Without the NRA’s input, it is highly likely that the more moderate Lugar would have been reelected to a 7th term.

This race exemplifies that while the NRA may carry the weight and money to sway smaller and more ideological-based primary races, their choices are can be self-defeating to their cause — and for the national Republican party.

Delaware Senate — Special Election 2010

In 2009, after more than 35 years in office, Joe Biden left the Senate to become the Vice President of the United States. Democrat Ted Kaufman was appointed to carry out the first 2 years of his term,[111] and in 2010 there was a special election to officially fill the seat for the remainder of Biden’s 6-year term.

Kaufman did not run in the Democratic primary, and handing the nomination to a county executive named Chris Coons.[112]The Republican primary turned out to be a heated competition between nine-time Republican US representative, Mike Castle, and Tea Party activist, Christine O’Donnell. The NRA gave Castle an “F” rating, and O’Donnell was given a rating of “AQ” — the group was thus strongly in favor of the more radical Tea Party candidate.

Over the course of the campaign, Christine O’Donnell became known for her radical positions: no tax hikes, no abortion, and no masturbation (derived from a 1996 MTV video in which she said masturbation was a sin, because it involved lust which is expressly prohibited by the bible).[113] Additionally, her personal finances became an issue. Kristin Murray, O’Donnell’s campaign manager in her unsuccessful 2008 Senate campaign, accused the candidate of “living on campaign donations — using them for rent and personal expenses, while leaving her workers unpaid and piling up thousands in debt.”[114]

However, thank to support she received from the Tea Party and the NRA, in addition to the groundswell of negative feeling regarding President Obama, O’Donnell won the Republican primary with 53% of the total vote.[115]

This primary victory set O’Donnell up for her third bid for a US Senate seat in Delaware in just as many election cycles, and despite the NRA’s spending $158,122 in opposition of Chris Coons (the 12th most spent by the NRA on a candidate in the 2010 elections), O’Donnell was unable to win in the general election, where she lost by a wide margin of 40% to 56%.[116]

O’Donnell’s polarizing views played a major role in the outcome of the election. Moderates (who made up 48 percent of Delaware voters in the 2010 Senate race, compared to 23 percent of voters who identified as liberal and 29% who identified as conservative) voted overwhelmingly for Coons, by a margin of 66 to 30 percent, [117] and McConnell’s extreme views and positions on social issues gained the attention of the national media. The NRA had backed an unelectable candidate — had the gun lobby not provided the support they did (and had the Tea Party not been at the peak of its influence) a more serious, moderate and appealing candidate like Castle — a candidate who could realistically represent his potential constituents — would have won , and the Republican party would have been far better situated to gain a Senate seat in Delaware in 2010.

Colorado Senate — 2010

In Colorado’s 2010 Senate race the NRA supported Tea Party candidate Ken Buck in both the primary and general election. Although Buck’s campaign had half the staff his opponent Jane Norton, a popular four-year Republican Lieutenant Governor of Colorado, did, he went on to defeat the more moderate Norton by a margin of 3.1% in the Republican primary.[118]

The NRA poured in money into Buck’s general election campaign: the group spent $1,495,814 in support of Buck, and an additional $77,042 in opposition of Buck’s opponent, Democrat Michael Bennet. Despite the scale of the NRA’s financial support (Ken Buck’s race was the group’s 3rd most expensive expenditure in 2010), Ken Buck lost to Michael Bennet by a margin of 0.9%.[119]

A number of factors contributed to Buck’s general election loss. Although a poll conducted by the Denver Post June 2010 found that Buck had as much as a 16-point advantage over Bennet in the months before the election,[120] his support had declined by election day.

Buck lost the female vote in Colorado in large part due to his extreme stance on abortions — Buck ran on the platform that abortion should not be legal for victims of rape or incent, only in the few cases where the mother’s life is at risk.[121] Buck lost female voters by a margin of 56% to 40%.

Buck also took an extreme stance on gay rights, and voiced the opinion that homosexuality is a choice: “I think that birth has an influence over it, like alcoholism and some other things…But I think that, basically, you have a choice.”[122] Buck lost liberal and moderate voters by margins of 95% to 2% and 60% to 36%, respectively.[123]

Buck’s positions were not general-election friendly — the extreme stances on social issues that accompanied his aggressive support of gun rights (the trait that so appealed to the NRA) ensured that a large swath of more moderate voters were unable to vote for him. It is likely that Ken Buck’s win in the Republican primary over moderate Jane Norton, who had the support of the Republican establishment, lost the Republicans the Colorado Senate seat.

Tennessee State House of Representatives — 2012

When Tennessee State Representative Debra Maggart made the decision to block the “Safe Commute Act” — a bill would have allowed Tennessee residents to keep a firearm in their car at all times, something that Maggart believed would infringe on the rights of schools and business owners to keep guns off of their personal property.[124] — the NRA-ILA turned its attention to her Tennessee district.

Although Maggert was popular in her district, and although many other politicians and lawyers in Sumner County believed that the bill’s language was ambiguous, and could even have given the right to carry firearms to those who were barred from owning a gun in the first place,[125] the NRA poured money into the campaign of near-unknown Courtney Rogers, Maggert’s challenger in the 2012 Republican primary.

Maggart’s opposition to the Safe Commute Act was enough to lower her NRA rating from an “A+” in 2011 to a “D” in 2012,[126] and provoked more than $155,000 in outside spending from the NRA’s political action committees.[127] One billboard compared Maggart’s views on the Second Amendment to those of Barrack Obama, despite her lifelong membership to the NRA, consistent voting history in favor of pro-gun rights legislation, and frequent interactions with the gun rights community in Tennessee.[128]

Courtney Rogers had $10,000 on hand before the NRA stepped in and made her a competitive opponent. Maggert lost the primary, and consequently, her seat in the Tennessee State Legislature.

However, while the NRA’s candidate, Courtney Rogers, did defeat her Democratic challenger in the general election, the NRA’s intervention provoked the ire of the local pro-gun community, many of whom belonged to the NRA. The irritated group wrote an open letter to Chris Cox, the Executive Director of the NRA-ILA, expressing their discontent:“As a D.C. lobbyist, if you ever make the 700 mile trip and come to Sumner County, we would love to sit down with you and ask why you are trying to force decisions on the people who live in a place, that as far as we know, you’ve never seen.” [129]

Thus, the NRA’s opposition to otherwise conservative incumbents in favor of extreme challengers can engender discontent in local communities where inhabitants were happy with their leadership, and resent special interest strong-arming. The NRA’s short term goals were accomplished in unseating Maggart, but it is still unclear what ripple effects their tactics will have in the pro-gun community in Tennessee’s 45th district, and beyond.

The NRA can influence small elections in state legislatures — because that’s where $50,000 does make a difference. Large-scale races where NRA contributions make up a large percentage of total campaign spending are extremely rare. In their blitz of Tennessee State Senator Debra Maggart, her NRA-backed opponent had $10,000 on hand before the NRA stepped in. In a race where Maggert, the incumbent, only had $147,000 to spend, the NRA contribution made a perceptible difference.

Moreover, and more importantly, NRA interventions in Republican primaries often do more damage to their interests than good. The victories the practice yields for the NRA can be short-lived: the group’s backing of extremely conservative candidates has backfired by ensuring that the Republican candidate who faces off against a Democrat is someone who is unelectable in a general election, such as Richard Mourdock, Ken Buck, and Christine O’Donnell.

Furthermore, NRA interventions in Republican primaries have the potential to truly subvert the will of the people, as the object of the NRA vendetta may be a popular incumbent who has attracted the ire of the NRA due to their position on a single issue. In these cases — such as Debra Maggert’s race in Tennessee’s Sumner County — special interest money, rather than the will of the community, determines the outcome of elections.

Although the NRA has been successful, in general, in ousting Republican incumbents during primaries, this practice has not only generated outcomes that are, in the end, contrary to the NRA’s interests — it has generated electoral outcomes that are contrary to the interests of the national Republican party, and to the interests of the wide swath of Americans who may believe in fiscal conservatism and small government, but do not favor the extreme views of fringe groups.

The Myth of NRA Power: The 1994 Midterm Elections, the 2000 Presidential Election & America’s Resurgent Gun Culture

The NRA has long claimed that they played an important role in both the election of a Republican House in 1994, and the election of a Republican President in 2000, by delivering Al Gore’s home state of Tennessee to George W. Bush.

These claims are a contributing factor to the myth of NRA influence, and, importantly, these claims are false — the NRA neither delivered the House, nor the Presidency, to Republicans.[130]

Lawmakers , pundits and the media look to these election cycles for proof that fear of the NRA’s power is well-founded, however, an analysis of these elections and of the political climate at the time shows that voting in favor of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban was not the political death wish it is viewed as today, and that Al Gore’s loss of his home state of Tennessee to a Republican cannot truly be not be used as a real-world example of the NRA’s storied ability to deploy its resources and take down a political campaign.

The 1994 Midterm Elections

In the 1994 midterm elections, Democrats lost 54 House seats, and with it control of the House. This decisive loss is frequently blamed on an NRA campaign following the passage of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, and indeed, the media has revived his myth as President Obama and certain members of Congress have moved to institute a new ban on assault weapons.[131]

While many have credited the NRA with the Democrats’ loss, in reality, studies show that, at most, 9 of these 54 Democratic losses (17%) can be attributed to gun issues. A far larger portion of the Democratic losses can be attributed to a larger shift in voter opinion — a shift in voter opinion caused by health care, tax increases in 1993 and other Democratic initiatives during Clinton’s first two years.[132]

Paul Waldman’s comprehensive, data based study of the NRA’s effect on the 1994 election has found that in 1994, Republican challengers who received an endorsement from the NRA received a 2% bump in the polls (a separate study from the one earlier mention, whose consistency validates the findings).[133]

While this may sound like it is proof that the NRA was behind the Republican victory, it is of the utmost importance to note that of the 54 seats that shifted from Democrat to Republican in 1994, only 9 were won in close enough races that the 2% boost from the NRA endorsement affected the outcome of the race.[134]

Thus, in reality, the NRA only directly influenced the outcome of 17% of the races in which a Republican beat an incumbent Democrat — a full 83% of the 54 seats that swung Republican shifted due to other reasons.

Chart 25

With regard to the 45 seats that did not swing Republican because of gun-related issues, the switch from Democrat to Republican can be attributed to a larger shift in voter opinion, based on issues entirely unrelated to and uninfluenced by the NRA, such as the passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,”

the 1993 budget with its upper-income tax increases, President Clinton’s health care reform initiative, and the signing and ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). [135]

While the 1994 midterms did prove that Americans wanted Democrats out of Congressional power, it is clear the assault weapons ban (nor any other single issue) was not the primary reason for their loss, or for Americans’ shift in opinion.

Gary Jacobson, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego performed a statistical analysis of what votes affected the outcome of the 1994 midterms. Jacobson concludes in his 1996 paper that while the vote on the assault weapon ban did matter, the votes on tax increases and on health care were more important.[136]

Jacobson also concludes, based on his analysis, that the results of the 1994 election were due to a more general political realignment — voters stopped splitting their tickets, and voted for Republican Congressional challengers in districts that President Clinton had lost in 1992, but had been won by Democratic candidates for Congress that same year. Jacobson writes: “[the] Republicans won the house in 1994… because an unusually large number of districts voted locally as they had been voting nationally.”[137]

Finally, recent history further calls into question the theory that the NRA’s campaigning and backlash to the assault weapons ban were the determining factors behind the Democrat’s devastating loss: while in 1994 Republicans picked up 54 seats in the House of Representatives — a victory that took place immediately after the assault weapons ban was passed — Republicans also picked up 63 seats in the 2010 midterms — midterms that took place after two years in which Congress had only expanded gun rights. This both further calls into question the connection between Democratic losses and any kind of backlash to the passage of new gun violence prevention legislation, and is further evidence that the gains and losses in midterm elections are, more often than not, the result of cyclical political tides.[138]

The myth of the NRA and the 1994 midterms is a narrative that only serves to frighten elected officials and discourage incumbents from backing any kind of meaningful gun violence prevention legislation — they have been convinced that it is a “losing” issue, when in fact the NRA has taken (and been given) credit for a shift in political alignment of which they were only one of many components.[139]

The 2000 Presidential Election

When Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee in the 2000 Presidential Election — a state that would otherwise have won him the presidency — many pointed to the NRA’s vocal opposition to Gore’s anti-gun stances. [140]

This loss has had significant ramifications: since 2000, many Democrats have taken a less aggressive stance on gun violence because many still believe that NRA opposition cost Gore the state of Tennessee, and hence the presidency.

However, this interpretation is an inaccurate understanding of Gore’s loss in Tennessee, and an exaggeration of the NRA’s role in that loss: it is far more likely that a long term conservative shift caused Gore to lose his home state, rather than any NRA influence. [141]

Al Gore was, indeed, highly successful in his early career in Tennessee politics: he won 5 straight terms in the US House of Representatives, and was twice elected to the US Senate. When Gore made his first bid for the presidency, he won the Democratic primary in his home state.

However, in the years following Gore’s move from the Senate to the White House, to become President Bill Clinton’s Vice President, Tennessee grew increasingly conservative. By the time Gore ran for President in 2000, both of Tennessee’s senators were Republicans, as were five of its nine representatives in Congress and Republican Don Sundquist won a second term as governor with a full 69% of the vote. [142]

A number of factors illustrate Tennessee’s conservative shift:

Since 1983, the state has gone from having 6 Democratic and 3 Republican House members, to only 2 Democrats and 7 Republicans today. [143]

Chart 26

Voters with increasingly conservative tendencies are also illustrated by the way they have voted in in Presidential elections over the last fifteen to twenty years.

In 1996, Democrat Bill Clinton won the state by a margin of only +2.4% — voters were nearly evenly divided. Gore did lose Tennessee in 2000, by a margin of -3.9%, however, both John Kerry and Barack Obama went on to lose the state by double digits: -14.3% and -15.1%, respectively.[144]

The state is now considered securely Republican.

Chart 26

Lastly, Tennessee saw its Senatorial delegates shift from two Democrats to two Republicans in 1994, where it has remained ever since and has also seen a steady slide towards Republican representatives during this time period.[145]

Chart 27

It is also likely that “Clinton-fatigue” played a role in Gore’s loss — conservative voters were galvanized into action and turned out in record numbers in order to ensure that another Democrat was not elected to the White House. [146]

Finally, Al Gore ran a populist campaign in 2000, rather than a centrist campaign on social issues [the type of campaign that I personally managed in 1996 for Clinton-Gore in Tennessee]. This difference in approach and campaign strategy was far more determinative than the issue of guns.

The Myth of NRA Power: America’s Resurgent Gun Culture?

Despite the NRA’s suggestions that Americans are against most to all forms of gun control, this supposition is false.

America as a whole is not, as some would suggest, becoming more pro gun. In 1974, 54% of American households owned guns. In 2010 that number fell 22 points to just 32%.[147]

While there is significant opposition to the abstract idea of “gun control,” support for specific gun violence prevention measures is at a record high in America — over 90% of Americans support universal background checks for gun purchases [a national poll conducted by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC on December 26th, 2012 found that 91% of respondents favor requiring all gun buyers to pass a criminal background check, no matter where they buy the gun and no matter whom they buy it from].

Additionally, a recent study commissioned by the Center for American Progress and Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that there has truly been a sea change in American public opinion regarding guns — Americans are not reflexively anti-gun control, as the NRA would have Washington believe.

The poll, conducted in the fall of 2012 — even before the Newtown shooting — found that voters, even in gun-friendly states like Virginia, prefer President Obama on the issue of guns, rather than the NRA, and furthermore, that two thirds of respondents felt that gun policy reform should be a priority for Obama’s 2nd term.

Voters who self-identify as Democrats and voters who self-identify as Republicans both overwhelmingly support “common sense” gun violence prevention laws such as universal background checks and laws that prevent domestic abusers from carrying concealed guns across state lines. [148]

Americans are also increasingly conscious, especially post-Newtown, of the danger posed by lax gun laws that allow the mentally ill and people with a history of abuse and criminal activity to purchase and sell weapons.

Douglas E. Schoen, LLC conducted a poll in December 2012, after the Newtown shooting, that found that 78% of all Americans, 77% of gun owners, and 66% of NRA members favor reasonable restrictions on gun ownership to keep guns out of the hands of criminal and other people who are already barred from having guns.

This same poll also found that 86% of all those surveyed, 81% of gun owners, and 70% of NRA members believe that it is important for President Obama and Congress to support the rights of gun owners, while also advocating for stronger gun laws to reduce gun violence.

Furthermore, 71% of all respondents, 63% of gun owners, and over half of all NRA members — 56% — favor stronger gun violence prevention laws to keep illegal guns out of the wrong hands.

However, despite the obvious sea change in public opinion, there is still an overwhelming fear of the NRA among members of Congress — both Senators and House members are reluctant to enact simple, obvious reforms for fear of the power the NRA holds over their chances for reelection, and the group’s sway over the American people in general.

These fears are founded upon the illusion of power that the NRA projects, rather than any substantive, concrete evidence of their political clout, or any real monopoly on the American people’s views regarding guns and gun violence prevention.

The Growing Divide between the NRA Leadership and Their Members

There is yet another fundamental weakness at the heart of the NRA: NRA lobbyists and officers are increasingly representing the interests of the gun manufacturing industry, rather than everyday Americans — gun owners don’t really have much of a say over what the NRA says or does anymore.

In recent years the firearms industry has exerted an increasingly strong influence over the NRA, funneling between $20 million and $52.6 million into the organization since 2005,[149] through the NRA’s Ring of Freedom Program[150]. The NRA has made $20.9 million — which was approximately 10% of its total revenue in 2010 — from selling advertising space in the group’s publications, and in some cases the NRA has even made money directly off the sale of gun purchases: Crimson Trace, which produces the laser sights used by gun owners, donates 10% of every purchase to the NRA, and Taurus, a gun manufacturer, purchases NRA memberships for every individual who purchases a gun. Other manufacturers directly support the NRA in similar ways — such as donating 1 dollar of every firearm purchase to the group — as well. [151]

As the NRA becomes more financially dependent on the gun manufacturing industry, and more financially dependent on the number of guns being sold, the organization’s legislative priorities have shifted — away from protecting the rights of everyday gun owners, and towards protecting gun manufacturers and advocating for legislation that benefits them.[152]

It is this dynamic that has lead the NRA to refuse to support what increasing large portions of the population see as “common sense” gun measures, such as mandatory universal background checks, despite the fact that over 90% of Americans support them — including 86% of the NRA’s own members [a poll that Douglas E. Schoen, LLC conducting in December 2012 found that, indeed, 91% of all respondents favored universal background checks, along with 88% of gun owners and a full 86% of NRA members].

The NRA has veered off course, and no longer speaks for many of its members, nor for any significant percentage of the American electorate. Additionally, the increasingly close relationship between the NRA and the gun industry may explain some of the recent extreme, anti-government rhetoric of NRA leaders.[153]

The long-term decline in gun ownership over the past 30 years has had a marked effect on gun manufacturers — today, the gun industry is only selling guns to one-third of the American population, as opposed to half of all Americans 30 years ago. It is because of this trend that the gun industry is becoming increasingly reliant on individuals who buy large caches of expensive weaponry, such as assault weapons. [154]

These are the types of individuals who are encouraged by the NRA’s anti-government rhetoric — those who are receptive to, and encouraged by, warnings of a federal gun registry and the consequent need for citizens to arm themselves against an authoritarian government. An assault weapons ban would be a truly serious blow for the gun manufacturing industry. [155]

As was discussed earlier, opinion is shifting — a recent CNN/ORC poll has approval for a ban on assault weapons such as the AK-47 at 62% among all Americans, and the same poll found that 95% of all Americans believe that all gun buyers should have to undergo a background check, no matter where they by the gun and who they buy it from[156].

Additionally, the poll Douglas E. Schoen LLC conducted in December 2012, after the Newtown tragedy, found that 86% of all those surveyed, 81% of gun owners, and 70% of NRA members believe that it is important for President Obama and Congress to support the rights of gun owners, while also advocating for stronger gun laws to reduce gun violence.

Furthermore, 91% of all respondents, 89% of gun owners, and 91% of NRA members agreed with the following statement: Background checks are a responsibility that come with our Second Amendment right to bear arms. They are meant to keep guns out the wrong hands — criminals, the mentally ill, minors, and addicts.

The NRA remains firmly unresponsive to these sea changes, and has been utterly unresponsive to both Americans’ overwhelming support for universal background checks, and its members’ support for universal background checks. The difference between NRA positions and the beliefs of the American people has grown dramatically in recent years, and differences will only be thrown into sharper relief in the future.

Where the NRA has been Successful

Whether or not its influence on elections is real or perceived, it is a reality that the NRA is omnipresent in debates over gun control and has the ability, through name recognition and threats, to sway the votes of members of Congress.

The NRA has been so successful because of four key strengths: the NRA promotes its agenda more consistently than pro-gun violence prevention organizations and interest groups (and has also developed a clear message of reward versus punishment when it comes to legislators toeing the NRA line), messaging by the gun violence prevention movement has been fragmented, the NRA’s core constituents tends to be more fired up and politically engaged than other groups of voters, and finally, leading Democratic politicians engage in debates with the NRA rather than with conservatives in general.

Consistent, Continuous Messaging

The NRA debates gun issues both before and after major events, not just in the immediate aftermath of tragedies like the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, as was the case with gun violence prevention advocates. “It seems the NRA has the stamina to outrun the pro-gun control movement. They are persistent, unyielding and gaining influence,” says Forbes Chief Insights Officer Bruce Rogers, in his analysis of NRA strategy. [157]

The chart below illustrates how the NRA engaged the public in the gun debate even before the Newtown tragedy, and has continued to be more proactive than the those in favor of gun violence prevention as time has passed (it is measured in Net Influence Score, which measures a person or group’s influence in a certain context (e.g. gun control legislation) on a scale between 0 and 1).

Chart 28[158]

United in its Message

The ability to engage effectively and continuously with the public has given the NRA a step up on gun violence prevention advocates, whose message has been fragmented: the following chart illustrates how the pro-gun violence prevention advocacy groups can be divided into four groups with smaller levels of influence — it is this type of fragmentation that weakens gun violence prevention advocates’ message. The NRA is far more unified presence and can be more persistent in its messaging. [159]

Chart 29

As can be seen in the chart on the right, the top five gun violence prevention messages come from three separate advocates, while the top five pro-gun messages come from the NRA alone. [160] The NRA dominates pro-gun advocacy and is therefore better able to controlling and streamlining their message.

Single-Minded Constituents

With about 5 million members, the NRA has a smaller group of constituents than most other political groups, such as the AARP. However, the NRA possesses the advantage of a narrow focus on the preservation of Second Amendment rights, rather than more varied issues such as Social Security, Health Care, and Ballot access. This allows the NRA’s leaders to focus their message, as was discussed above, and also provides NRA members with a single, narrow focus of which they are passionate about. “Any NRA members are as single-minded as the organization itself,” writes Brian Palmer for Slate Magazine, “They’re widely believed to be more likely to attend campaign events, ring doorbells, and make phone calls to help their favored candidate defeat their opponents — than senior citizens, members of labor unions, or public school teachers.” [161]

The threat that this group will be mobilized in order to defeat a member of Congress who opposed an NRA position can be enough to dissuade lawmakers from voting in favor stricter gun control.[162]

A Clearly Outlined System of Threats & Rewards

The NRA has perfected a system of threats and rewards that is nearly universally recognized among lawmakers: there exists a clear set of positions regarding guns and gun control that, if followed, will produce a reward for that lawmaker from NRA, in the form of a good NRA grade, an endorsement in their next race, and the potential for campaign contributions. There is also a clear set of positions, that, if taken, will produce a negative action from the NRA — a low NRA grade, negative PR, and likely, the NRA’s financial support of the lawmaker’s opponent in their next primary race.

Exposure and Reputation

By injecting itself into the forefront of any conversation surrounding guns, the NRA is positioned as a leader in any conversation about guns, the Second Amendment, and gun control. While gun violence prevention advocates have proved to be more effective with less money, they have yet to come together on the issue of gun control. While liberal Congressmen must answer to the NRA for any position they take, there is not yet any real equivalent with regard to conservative, pro-gun lawmakers and any organization that supports and advocates for gun violence prevention.

The NRA’s name recognition, and reputation for marshalling targeted and effective attacks on enemy legislators, frightens lawmakers into submission. With a more proactive and unified message, and well-coordinated defensive and offensive campaigns, the gun violence prevention movement will be able to engage more successfully with Republican legislators, and provide more reassuring cover for reform-minded Democrats — freeing up these legislators to express their support for meaningful reform, such as background checks, that reflect the majority opinions of the American people. [163]

In Conclusion

Contrary to popular opinion, the NRA does not have the influence that many say it exerts over elections.

Candidates and elected officials at all levels of the political system fear getting on the wrong side of the NRA, as the organization’s ire is still seen as a significant setback, and sometimes sign of defeat, in a race for office. Recently, the NRA and gun rights activists have threatened to go after North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan — a Democrat who is facing a tough race for reelection in the 2014 — if she supports any of the gun violence prevention measures that may work their way through Congress.

But is there any real, deciding power behind this threat?

The power and political clout of the gun lobby is taken as a fact, and individuals who are running for office take care to avoid attracting the organization’s ill will. It is difficult to measure any group’s true political clout, as sometimes simply projecting the image of power is all that needs to be done to wield real influence.

However, fear of the NRA, and therefore, the NRA’s power, is based upon a common misconception — that an NRA endorsement, an NRA grade, and NRA campaign funding are important indicators of campaign victory. Research shows that this is not the case, and data suggests that the NRA cannot, in fact, deliver on its threats — the NRA’s aura of success and infallibility is not what it seems.

When one looks at the facts, the following conclusions become clear: the NRA is generally not successful in truly competitive races — it tends to be successful where the NRA-backed candidates’ success was, essentially, already secured — NRA endorsements do not have the positive effect that they are so pervasively assumed to have, the NRA does not spend as much money as the public thinks it does, and, furthermore, the organization does not have a strong track record of using the money it does spend, or its influence, in competitive elections.

Put another way, the NRA is not spending its money wisely, nor in the amounts needed to make a concrete and decisive impact on elections, and their endorsements seem only to help a select few.

Legislators vie for the NRA’s support and fear its scorn, because the organization does have significant funds, and has not been afraid to dispense those funds (in 2012 the NRA outspent the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, $19.7 million to $40,000[164]).

However, as we have shown, and as the data collected over 20 years indicates, taken within the context of total campaign spending, the bulk of the money dispensed by the NRA is in amounts small enough to be rendered insignificant.

A recap of the key conclusions that can be drawn from an examination of the NRA’s role in elections:

1. NRA endorsements are almost meaningless in terms of electoral success. The NRA overwhelmingly endorses candidates that are already guaranteed to win — 86% of NRA endorsements between 2004 and 2010 went to (frequently popular) incumbents, and a full 106 went to candidates with no opponent — which pads their numbers with successes that had nothing to do with group. Between 2004 and 2010 only 4 NRA-endorsed candidates (out of 1,038) received bumps in the polls that could both be attributed to the endorsement, and caused them to win their election.[165]

2. The NRA does not spend as much as it seems to — indeed, it dispensed only $1.5 million in direct campaign contributions in 2012, putting it in 230th place among lobbying groups — and NRA contributions have virtually no impact on the outcome of Congressional races.

More importantly, NRA spending is highly inefficient — the group had an abysmally low rate of return on investment in 2012. While the NRA did dispense a total of $19.7 million (a figure that includes independent expenditures) during the 2012 election cycle, most of this money was spent on races in which the NRA was not able to influence the outcome they desired: only 7.47% of the $19.7 million spent by the group was spent on races in which the NRA-backed candidate won — which means that a full 92.53% [$18,267,293] of their spending did not meaningfully affect the outcome of their candidate’s race.

3. The grades that the NRA gives lawmakers — they are scored on a scale of A+ to F — do not have the negative, determinative effect on the outcome of races that so many in Washington think they do. Of the 33 Senate races that transpired in 2012, there were 26 races in which NRA grades were assigned to both the Democrat and Republican running, and in which there was a substantial difference in the grades assigned to each candidate. Of these races, 20 candidates who had lower NRA grades than their opponents won their elections, while only 6 of the candidates with a higher NRA score than their opponent won theirs.

Furthermore, it is possible to run a competitive campaign without a high campaign grade in Western states: in the Nevada, where 40% of voters are gun owners, “F” rated Democrat Shelley Berkley was a formidable challenger to “A” rated incumbent Dean Heller — she lost by a narrow margin of only 1.2%.

4. The NRA’s record has been far from successful in recent election cycles. While in 2012 the NRA did achieve the outcome it desired in 52% of the races it participated in, at any level, the group had only a 20% success rate in races in which they spent more than $100,000 in support of or in opposition to a candidate.

Furthermore, by presenting unqualified data regarding their wins and losses — and neglecting to note the minor nature of most of their contributions — the NRA is able to look as if it has far greater influence than it truly possesses. For instance, in 2012 the group took credit for 5 electoral victories in races where they spent under $100. The NRA uses this skewed and deceptive “win rate” number in order to instill fear in lawmakers.

In general, the NRA’s moderate overall success rate in 2012 was derived from making low risk bets regarding endorsements and financial contributions.

5. The NRA does appear to have had a successful election cycle in 2010: the group received the outcome it desired in 85 of the 137 races it invested in, and successfully supported or opposed 12 of the 20 candidates on whom they spent over $100,000. However, NRA funding — or a lack thereof — hardly dictated who won and who lost in 2010.

Some of the NRA’s top recipients in the Senate lost their races — the NRA spent $746,078 trying to elect Ken Buck in Colorado, $414,100 in an attempt to elect Dino Rossi in Washington, and $258,323 trying to elect Carly Fiorina in California.[166] Furthermore, in the races where the NRA was both highly invested and their favored candidate won, the group’s funding was, in reality, minimal compared to candidates’ total spending: for instance, NRA funding made up less than 10% of Toomey’s total spending, and was dwarfed by the combined spending of other conservative groups.

Additionally, the NRA has taken credit for what is likely the result of a larger shift in political tides and strong anti-Obama sentiment.

6. A frequently cited reason for continuing to fear the NRA’s potential role in elections is their power to influence primary elections — especially Republican primaries. However, NRA interventions in Republican primaries often do more damage to the group’s interests than good. The NRA victories these interventions yield can be short-lived: the group’s support of extremely conservative candidates has backfired by ensuring that the Republican candidate who faces off against a Democrat is someone who is unelectable in a general election — such as Richard Mourdock in Indiana, Ken Buck in Colorado, and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. Thanks to Richard Mourdock’s win in the 2012 Republican Senate Primary, Indiana elected a Democrat to a state-wide position for the first time in a decade.

Although the NRA has had some significant success in ousting Republican incumbents during primaries, this practice has not only generated outcomes that are, in the end, contrary to the NRA’s interests — it has generated electoral outcomes that are contrary to the interests of the national Republican party, and to the interests of the wide swath of Americans who believe in fiscal conservatism and small government, but do not favor the extreme views of fringe groups

7. The NRA did not play a determining role in the election of a Republican House in 1994, nor in Al Gore’s loss of his home state of Tennessee in 2000, as is commonly thought.[167] These claims are a contributing factor to the myth of NRA influence, and, importantly, these claims are false — the NRA neither delivered the House, nor the Presidency, to Republicans. At most, only 9 of the 54 seats the Democrats lost in 1994 can be attributed to gun issues, while the rest were due to larger shifts in voter opinion and more general political trends, as was Gore’s 2000 loss in Tennessee.

8. The NRA, and especially NRA leadership, are becoming increasingly divorced from both their members, and from the American populace in general. Furthermore, the strength of America’s “gun culture” — a perception that the NRA both feeds and preys upon — is greatly exaggerated, and not as unqualified and absolute as the NRA would have the public believe. A national poll performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC in December 2012, found that 91% of all respondents interviewed favored universal background checks, along with a full 86% of NRA members.

9. The NRA’s opposition to background checks reposes on a fundamental contradiction. While the NRA has long repeated that “people, not guns, are the problem,” background checks protect Americans and American families against the people that commit senseless acts of violence-criminals and the mentally ill — background checks, by nature, go after the people who are predisposed towards violence, not guns. And yet the NRA opposes these types of measures.

10. The NRA operates via perceived power, rather than actual political clout or effective campaigning or spending, and is adept at capitalizing, in terms of advertising high win rates in election cycles, on the natural ebbs and flows of the overall political landscape.

In conjunction with the power of its reputation, the NRA uses unified, targeted, continuous, and rigorously deployed messaging, and the group’s clear presentation of the supposed “rewards” of supporting NRA positions, and the negatives that accompany deviating from the NRA policy position, gives the group an advantage over advocates of gun control. The gun violence prevention movement has yet to articulate a comparably succinct, unified platform or a comparable easy-to-understand, clearly delineated system of punishment vs. reward.

The NRA’s name recognition, and reputation for marshalling targeted and effective attacks on enemy legislators, frightens lawmakers into submission. With a more proactive and unified message, and well-coordinated defensive and offensive campaigns, the gun violence prevention movement will be able to engage more successfully with Republican legislators, and provide more reassuring cover for reform-minded Democrats.

An analysis of the evidence yields a clear conclusion: lawmakers in Washington need to unlearn and recalibrate their received knowledge and preconceived notions of the NRA. The NRA is the paper tiger of the American political system — seemingly formidable, but without real, decisive power.

Disclaimer: This article represents Kenneth Lerer’s own views, and not those of any business affiliations he may have.

[1] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[2] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5]Weiner, Rachel. “Is the National Rifle Association Overrated?” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 26 July 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2013.

[6] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[7]Weiner, Rachel. “Is the National Rifle Association Overrated?” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 26 July 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2013.

[8] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part II: Overrated Endorsements.” ThinkProgress. N.p., 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[9] Young, Lindsay. “Sunlight Foundation.” Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group. N.p., 17 Dec. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[10] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part III: Two Elections The NRA Did Not Win.” ThinkProgress. N.p., 22 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013

[11] Opensecrets.org is the public database of the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit, nonpartisan research group based in Washington, DC that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy.

[12] Lavender, Paige. “Joe Manchin: NRA Scorecard Killed Gun Control Bill.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 18 Apr. 2013. Web. 06 May 2013.

[13] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013. <http://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/detail.php?cmte=National+Rifle+Assn&cycle=2012>.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part I: The NRA’s Ineffective Spending.” ThinkProgress RSS. N.p., 9 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[16] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[17] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part I: The NRA’s Ineffective Spending.” ThinkProgress RSS. N.p., 9 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[18] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[19] “National Rifle Assn: Summary, Heavy Hitters.” OpenSecrets. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2013.

[20] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part I: The NRA’s Ineffective Spending.” ThinkProgress RSS. N.p., 9 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[21] ibid

[22] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part II: Overrated Endorsements.”ThinkProgress. N.p., 9 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] “Project Vote Smart.” National Rifle Association Rating, Web. 15 May 2013. http://votesmart.org/interest-group/1034/rating/6581#.UZOynJVKqnl

[26] “About PVF.” NRA-PVF. 18 Apr. 2013. http://www.nrapvf.org/about-pvf.aspx

[27] “National Rifle Assn: Summary, Heavy Hitters.” OpenSecrets. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2013.

[28] Ibid

[29] Ibid

[30] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[31] ibid

[32] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[33] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[34] Ibid

[35] “Jeff Flake Election Results: Richard Carmona Defeated In 2012 Arizona Senate Race.” The Huffington Post, 07 Nov. 2012. Web. 06 May 2013.

[36] “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[37] Jeff Flake: Summary of Cycle Fundraising. OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 31 December, 2012.

[38] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[39] Siegel, Elyse. “Indiana Election Results 2012: Richard Lugar Defeated By Richard Mourdock.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 08 May 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[40] “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[41] “Orrin G. Hatch: PAC Data.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 25 March, 2013.

[42] “NRA Spends Money On Losing Candidates During 2012 Election.” International Business Times. N.p., 8 Nov. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[43] “ Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[44] Ibid

[45] Ibid

[46] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[47] Ibid

[48] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part II: Overrated Endorsements.”ThinkProgress. N.p., 9 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[49]Weiner, Rachel. “Is the National Rifle Association Overrated?” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 26 July 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2013.

[50]Ibid.

[51] ibid

[52] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[53] Ibid.

[54] “Reelection Rates Over the Years.” Opensecrets. Web. 06 May 2013. http://www.opensecrets.org/bigpicture/reelect.php

[55] CNN Election Center, 24 Nov. 2010. Web. 06 May 2013. http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2010/results/full/#H

[56] “Reelection Rates Over the Years.” Opensecrets. Web. 06 May 2013. http://www.opensecrets.org/bigpicture/reelect.php

[57]Weiner, Rachel. “Is the National Rifle Association Overrated?” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 26 July 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2013.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[60] “Pat Toomey: Elections — Amount Raised 2010.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics.

[61] “The Club for Growth: Recipients” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics

[62]Weiner, Rachel. “Is the National Rifle Association Overrated?” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 26 July 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2013.

[63] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[64]Weiner, Rachel. “Is the National Rifle Association Overrated?” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 26 July 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2013.

[65] Drutman, Lee. “NRA’s Allegiances Reach Deep into Congress.” Sunlight Foundation Blog. N.p., 18 Dec. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[66] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part II: Overrated Endorsements.”ThinkProgress. N.p., 9 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Young, Lindsay. “Sunlight Foundation.” Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group. N.p., 17 Dec. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[69] Ibid

[70] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[71] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part II: Overrated Endorsements.”ThinkProgress. N.p., 9 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[72] “Top All-Time Donors, 1989–2012.” OpenSecrets.org: Money in Politics. Web. 07 May 2013. Based on data released by the FEC on April 25, 2011. http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/list.php

[73] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part II: Overrated Endorsements.”ThinkProgress. N.p., 9 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[74] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part II: Overrated Endorsements.”ThinkProgress. N.p., 9 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Gibson, Dave. “The Price of Admission to the House and Senate.” Mother Jones. N.p., Sept.-Oct. 2010. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[78] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[79] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[80] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part II: Overrated Endorsements.”ThinkProgress. N.p., 9 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[81] Ibid

[82] “Pat Toomey: Elections — Amount Raised 2010.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics.

[83] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part II: Overrated Endorsements.” ThinkProgress. N.p., 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[84] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[85] Ibid

[86] Ibid

[87] Young, Lindsay. “Sunlight Foundation.” Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group. N.p., 17 Dec. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[88] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part II: Overrated Endorsements.” ThinkProgress. N.p., 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[89] Ibid.

[90] Ibid.

[91] Ibid.

[92] Ibid.

[93] Ibid

[94] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part II: Overrated Endorsements.” ThinkProgress. N.p., 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[95] Ibid

[96] Ibid

[97] Ibid

[98] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part II: Overrated Endorsements.” ThinkProgress. N.p., 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[99] “U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records Home Votes Roll Call Vote.” U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records Home Votes Roll Call Vote, 11 Apr. 2013. Web. 15 May 2013.

[100] “Project Vote Smart.” National Rifle Association Rating, Web. 15 May 2013. http://votesmart.org/interest-group/1034/rating/6581#.UZOynJVKqnl

[101] “National Rifle Association Of America Political Victory Fund, 2012 Cycle.” Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group. N.p., 11 Apr. 2013. Web. 17 May 2013.

[102] “Richard Lugar.” Ballotpedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2013.

[103] Bradner, Eric. “Sen. Richard Lugar Shows Muscle in Survey.” Evansville Courier & Press. N.p., 21 Nov. 2010. Web. 17 May 2013.

[104] “Poll: Lugar May Be in Jeopardy.” WISH TV. N.p., 4 Nov. 2011. Web. 17 May 2013.

[105] “Richard Lugar on The Second Amendment.” The Political Guide. N.p., 30 Apr. 2012. Web. 17 May 2013.

[106] “2012 Indiana Senate Race — Candidates, Debates and Primary Results.” The Political Guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2013.

[107] Vorhees, Josh. “GOP Senate Candidate Suggests Pregnancy From Rape Is “Something That God Intended”” The Slatest. N.p., 24 Oct. 2012. Web. 17 May 2013.

[108] “Richard Mourdock Favorability (IN).” Talking Points Memo. N.p., 31 Oct. 2012. Web. 17 May 2013.

[109] “Election Center.” CNN. N.p., 10 Nov. 2012. Web. 17 May 2013.

[110] Wald, Matthew L. “Democrat Wins Race For Senate In Indiana.” The New York Times. N.p., 07 Nov. 2012. Web. 17 May 2013.

[111] Brumfield, Sarah. “Biden’s Replacement Picked.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 24 Nov. 2008. Web. 03 June 2013.

[112] Espo, David. “2010 Primary Results: Tea Party Versus The GOP Establishment.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 15 Sept. 2010. Web. 03 June 2013.

[113] Lawrence, Jill. “Christine O’Donnell: No Tax Hikes, No Abortion, No Masturbation Ban.” Politics Daily. N.p., 2011. Web. 05 June 2013.

[114] Espo, David. “2010 Primary Results: Tea Party Versus The GOP Establishment.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 15 Sept. 2010. Web. 03 June 2013.

[115] Ibid.

[116] http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2010/results/state/#val=DE

[117] “CNN: Exit Polls, Deleware.” CNN. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2013.

[118] “U.S. Senate — Republican Primary Election Results.” Recent Results. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2013.http://data.denverpost.com/election/results/us-senate/2010/primary/r/us-senate/

[119] “Colorado U.S. Senate 2010Election Results.” Recent Results. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2013. http://data.denverpost.com/election/results/us-senate/2010/

[120] “Http://www.denverpost.com/politics/ci_15326334." Denver Post. N.p., 20 June 2010. Web. 5 June 2013. http://www.denverpost.com/politics/ci_15326334

[121] Chapin, Laura. “Ken Buck’s Abortion Stance Cost Him a Senate Seat.” US News. N.p., 05 Nov. 2010. Web. 03 June 2013.

[122] Lach, Eric. “On Meet The Press, Ken Buck Compares Being Gay To Alcoholism (VIDEO).” TPM News Combined. N.p., 17 Oct. 2010. Web. 05 June 2013.

[123] “CNN: Exit Polls, Colorado.” CNN. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2013. http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2010/results/polls/#COS01p1

[124] Terkel, Amanda. “NRA Sparks Backlash From Local Members After Involvement In Tennessee Election.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 04 Aug. 2012. Web. 05 June 2013.

[125] “An Open Letter From Citizens of Sumner County.” The Hendersonville Star News. N.p., 1 Aug. 2012. Web. 5 June 2013. http://www.docstoc.com/docs/document-preview.aspx?doc_id=125736314

[126] ibid.

[127] “Debra Young Maggart: About.” Debramaggart.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2013.

[228] Ibid.

[129] Terkel, Amanda. “NRA Sparks Backlash From Local Members After Involvement In Tennessee Election.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 04 Aug. 2012. Web. 05 June 2013.

[130] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part III: Two Elections The NRA Did Not Win.” ThinkProgress. N.p., 22 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[131] Gertz, Matt. “The Media Myth Of The Assault Weapons Ban And The 1994 Elections Returns.” Media Matters for America. N.p., 20 Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[132] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part III: Two Elections The NRA Did Not Win.” ThinkProgress. N.p., 22 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[133] Ibid.

[134] Ibid.

[135] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part III: Two Elections The NRA Did Not Win.” ThinkProgress. N.p., 22 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[136] “The 1994 House Elections in Perspective” Gary C. Jacobson, Political Science Quarterly, Volume 111, 1996

[137] Ibid

[138] Gertz, Matt. “The Media Myth Of The Assault Weapons Ban And The 1994 Elections Returns.” Media Matters for America. N.p., 20 Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[139] Ibid.

[140] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part III: Two Elections The NRA Did Not Win.” ThinkProgress. N.p., 22 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[141] Ibid

[142] Gertz, Matt. “The Media Myth Of The Assault Weapons Ban And The 1994 Elections Returns.” Media Matters for America. N.p., 20 Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[143] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part III: Two Elections The NRA Did Not Win.” ThinkProgress. N.p., 22 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[144] Ibid

[145] “Tennessee Congressional Races.” OpenSecrets, 16 Apr. 2013. Web. 8 May 2013. http://www.opensecrets.org/races/election.php?state=TN&cycle=2012

[146] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part III: Two Elections The NRA Did Not Win.” ThinkProgress. N.p., 22 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[147] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part IV: The Declining Role Of Guns In American Society.” ThinkProgress. N.p., 1 Mar. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[148] Ibid

[149] Hickey, Walter. “How the Gun Industry Funnels Tens of Millions of Dollars to the NRA” Business Insider. 16 Jan. 2013. [http://www.businessinsider.com/gun-industry-funds-nra-2013-1]

[150] Described by the NRA as “The National Rifle Association’s newly expanded Corporate Partners Program is an opportunity for corporations to partner with the NRA… The program is geared towards your company’s corporate interests. With seven different giving programs, there are a variety of ways to support the NRA and its entities.” [http://home.nra.org/pdf/CORP_BROCHURE_FINAL.pdf]

[151]Hickey, Walter. “How the Gun Industry Funnels Tens of Millions of Dollars to the NRA” Business Insider. 16 Jan. 2013. [http://www.businessinsider.com/gun-industry-funds-nra-2013-1]

[152] Ibid.

[153] Creamer, Robert. “Why the NRA Is Becoming the ‘Great Oz’” The Huffington Post. N.p., 14 Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[154] Murphy, Chris. “The NRA’s Supposed Clout Is A Charade.” Hartford Courant. N.p., 11 Apr. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[155] Ibid

[156] Creamer, Robert. “Why the NRA Is Becoming the ‘Great Oz’” The Huffington Post. N.p., 14 Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[157] Rogers, Bruce. “NRA Winning the Influence Battle Over Gun Control.” Forbes. N.p., 01 Feb. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[158] Ibid.

[159] Rogers, Bruce. “NRA Winning the Influence Battle Over Gun Control.” Forbes. N.p., 01 Feb. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[160] Ibid.

[161] Palmer, Brian. “How the Gun Lobby Leverages Modest Resources into Outsized Influence.” Slate Magazine. N.p., 18 Dec. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[162] Ibid

[163] Rogers, Bruce. “NRA Winning the Influence Battle Over Gun Control.” Forbes. N.p., 01 Feb. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[164] “Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: Summary of Spending.” OpenSecrets. 29 Apr. 2013. Web. [http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000024445&year=2012]

[165] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part II: Overrated Endorsements.” ThinkProgress. N.p., 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

[166] Data analysis performed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, data from “National Rifle Assn: Outside Spending Summary 2012.” OpenSecrets: Center for Responsible Politics. 6 May 2013.

[167] Waldman, Paul. “The Myth Of NRA Dominance Part III: Two Elections The NRA Did Not Win.” ThinkProgress. N.p., 22 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013