Most Americans Disagree with NRA But Still Believe It ‘Represents Their Views’

A Quinnipac poll released this morning serves as evidence of a forceful PR/advocacy/political lobbying campaign’s ability to shape public perceptions of a brand. In short, a majority of Americans say that the National Rifle Association “represents their views” on gun control issues despite disagreeing with some of the organization’s most fundamental positions. What’s going on here?

Key points:

  • The NRA recently came out against proposed legislation that would require universal background checks for all individuals looking to purchase weapons in any setting.
  • This is a messaging shift for the organization, which once strongly supported these checks but now claims they would lead to a “national gun registry” and eventually empower a “tyrannical” government to tax and even confiscate weapons from legal gun owners.
  • The Quinnipac poll finds that an overwhelming 92% of Americans support stronger universal background checks.
  • A majority of the public also supports a proposed ban on the sale of assault weapons and a ban on the sale of “high capacity” magazines (the NRA very strongly opposes both of these restrictions).
  • And yet, when it comes to gun control, the public also believes that the NRA better reflects their own views than President Obama (46% to 43%).

It would appear that the public is confused about exactly what the NRA is–and the policies it advocates.

What conclusions can PR strategists draw from this survey?

As we see it, the results serve as a vindication of the NRA’s “everything at once” PR strategy, which consists of aggressively moving to discredit opponents and blaming wildly divergent third parties (video game makers, gun control advocates, school administrators, etc.) for school shootings and other incidents commonly attributed to America’s “gun culture”. In ads, press releases and public statements, the organization often caricatures its opponents as Big Brother authoritarians who want to deprive law-abiding citizens of their basic Constitutional rights. This strategy appears to be working–at least to some degree.

What do these findings tell us about the effectiveness of aggressive PR campaigns? How can the public simultaneously support and disagree with an organization like the NRA?