A friend recently sent me a questionnaire he’d received from the NRA, along with a fundraising appeal warning that the November elections will “threaten your gun rights,” and explaining that the organization needs your money in order to protect its “pro-freedom” agenda. (I wonder when they’ll explain why that “pro-freedom agenda” required that they collaborate with Russian operatives…but I digress.)
The letter also disses all those polls showing widespread public support for background checks and other modest gun-control measures. (“Fake news!”)
If there is one thing academic researchers and legitimate political pollsters know, it is that the way you frame survey questions is critical: if you are trying to obtain an accurate reading of the public pulse, questions cannot be suggestive or loaded.
Of course, if political candidates and advocacy organizations were interested in accurate results, they’d hire a reputable pollster. The “surveys” and “polls” we all receive from various candidates and organizations are transparent efforts to separate us from our money; they are intended to push our buttons, not inquire about our opinions.
And the NRA has mastered the art of button-pushing. A few examples:
“Do you agree with the politicians and Hollywood elites who say the NRA is a terrorist organization?”
“Do you support a sweeping ban on semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and handguns?”
“Should law-abiding Americans be forced to undergo a background check?”
“Should the federal government limit your ability to defend yourself and your family by banning magazines with more than 10 rounds?”
“Should the federal government be able to register and track all firearms in the U.S. and retain personal information about those who lawfully possess them?”
“Would you ever knowingly vote for a candidate for Congress who supports new anti-gun restrictions as part of his or her agenda?”
There’s more, of course, but these “poll questions” should give you a flavor of the rest.
Before you laugh at the transparency of these formulations or dismiss the obviousness of the propaganda, it may be worth thinking about the political psychology behind the choice of words employed in what was an expensive mailing. Remember, these “polls” go to NRA members (including the friend who shared this), not to the general public–and although reputable surveys suggest that the majority of those members are far more reasonable than the organization’s leadership, they are still likely to be favorably disposed to the NRA’s mission.
They aren’t likely to be favorably disposed to “Hollywood elites.” They are very likely to resent being called a terrorist organization.
The framing of the support/no support questions is patently dishonest, but very effective. Do you favor a “sweeping” ban? Do you want the government “forcing” “law-abiding” citizens to do anything? Surely you are already worried that the surveillance state is keeping tabs on everyone, and you don’t want them “retaining your personal information.”
I’m sure you are leery of Congressional candidates who make gun control part of an (obviously nefarious) “agenda.”
The big problem with special interest organizations like the NRA isn’t that they represent majority opinion. They don’t–not even close. They are effective because their issues are so salient to the minority of people who do agree with them. (This is also true of anti-choice and other single-issue voters.)
Because they care deeply about their particular issue, (and generally, not about many–or any–others) they vote. Reliably. And as a result, they exercise far more influence than their numbers would otherwise entitle them to. That’s one reason why the recent arrest of a Russian operative who used the NRA as her conduit to the Trump Administration and Republicans in Congress was so alarming.
My single issue in November is the defeat of Trump enablers. It’s pretty salient to me….