Bringing Out the Big Guns

Hillary Clinton has found herself a new wedge issue. For months, she has struggled to gain traction with the most progressive wing of the Democratic Party, but it seems she has finally found an issue that she can use against her Democratic opponent, Bernie Sanders, from the left: gun control.

The issue provided one of the many highlights of Clinton’s commanding performance in the Democratic debate, in which she attacked Sanders for his weak record on gun control, lambasting him for a series of votes in the Senate that were more in line with the National Rifle Association than the Democratic Party. The attack seemed to work well, and the issue has become a repeated theme throughout her campaign. In fact, her latest campaign ad centers around her gun plan and the need for progressive action on the issue.

On a surface level, her new strategies seem to be working. Clinton is enjoying gains in popularity; She has a large lead over Sanders in national polls and leads him by double digits in almost every one of the early states, except New Hampshire.

Clinton is continuing her momentum from her success in many of the campaign’s big events such as her aforementioned debate performance, her eleven-hour stint before the Benghazi committee – which got the campaign their highest hourly donation rate – and the announcement that Joe Biden would not be running against her.
But a closer examination of the polls shows that Sanders has not lost much of his voters; he simply has not gained much. In that regard, these gun control attacks will do little to slow the support that Sanders currently has. Mostly white, his supporters represent a group that, according to a 2011 Pew Research survey, are among the least likely to support gun control. But these people will help him expand his base beyond those that currently support him, something that will be crucial if Sanders expects to be competitive in the Southern states, where Clinton is currently dominating. While the South is typically thought of as strongly in favor of gun rights, the southern Democratic primaries tell a different story. In these states, support from minority voters, who overwhelmingly support gun control, is crucial to any successful campaign.

Clinton’s attacks will not deflate the support that Sanders has. But, they will slow its expansion.