ROI For NRA Spending

I’ve seen a lot of analysis like this that NRA basically blew a wad of cash for nearly nothing. If you look at our overall results in Pennsylvania, things don’t look that bad. But the fact is that in a lot of key races, NRA got beaten badly.

NRA is certainly not alone. A good many groups on the right also sunk huge, often times much much larger sums of dollars into this election with even less to show for it. That will hopefully blunt the damage to NRA’s reputation, but this is going to hurt, for certain. What is the root problem here? I would boil it down to a few factors.

  • For the past two elections, NRA has had a choice between Barack Obama and a candidate that could be charitably described as a compromise. John McCain was well understood to have gone all “maverick” on NRA at various points in his political career, and while Mitt Romney’s actual record on the issue wasn’t nearly as bad as his rhetoric, that signing statement was bound to dog him. NRA has never been in a position to endorse a candidate for President who was actually strong on our issue, and everyone knows it. NRA did much better in down ticket races where this was not a factor.
  • No grassroots interest group can hope to do more than swing elections at the margins. When you don’t have a close election, it’s hard to claim interest groups were relevant. NRA suffered extensive losses in their U.S. Senate endorsements. Two candidates probably deserve the blame there, namely Mourdock in Indiana, and Akin in Missouri. Their ridiculous jabbering about rape poisoned the well of GOP Senate prospects, and took most of those races down below the NRA’s margin. That’s not something that could have been helped, because it was a messaging problem created by two bad candidates.
  • The center-right groups are not reaching younger voters, largely because their use of technology is backwards. NRA actually does a better job in this area than most of the other groups that flushed millions of dollars down the toilet this election, but that’s not saying NRA’s efforts are particularly good. I believe a big component of Obama’s two victories have been his effective use of technology to reach and motivate younger voters, who are not reachable by TV, print or direct mail. We’re finally starting to see the technology revolution come to politics, and it’s OFA who is leading.
  • The GOP didn’t run on gun rights at all this election cycle. Even Obama’s Fast and Furious scandal got nary a mention. Most pundits believed everyone wanted to hear about the economy, and that if the Democrats made this a culture war election, they would lose. Well, how did that work out? The Democrats pounded the GOP on culture war issues with single women and young people, and won those groups by large margins. Gun rights are actually a culture war issue where there’s no generation gap. Why not attack Obama on the issue?

The bigger question is what to do about it? It should be possible to motivate young people on gun rights. If there’s one thing that’s true about Millennials, is that they are extremely socially liberal. If guns are your “thing” — how you like to spend your Saturdays — most Millennials are fine with that. It’s your thing. Millennials don’t make strong value judgements on other people’s choices, and that is required to be a strong gun control advocate. The way to market gun rights to Millennials is to make them understand it as a lifestyle choice, and an issue of personal freedom. If you can do that, you’ll sell it to them. To that extent, I actually think blogs that heavily feature the shooting life are more useful for reaching that generation than political gun blogs like mine.

I think everyone on the right needs to understand the OFA machine. This is something I’m very curious about, but I don’t have time right now to try to dig to understand more of how it works. But every center-right group, including NRA, needs to start thinking more seriously about reaching younger voters, and using technology as a force multiplier in GOTV efforts. This means investing a lot more in technology spending, and bringing people on board who deeply understand how young people consume and share information. The days of raising money, awareness, membership and action, by sending oodles of direct mail or making phone calls, if not dead, is nearly so. If NRA and other groups keep messaging to the old, they will die with the old.

15 thoughts on “ROI For NRA Spending”

  1. The OFA model won’t work for the current GOP. It just cannot. They can buy shiny things but unless they commit to using them it is a waste of money.

    OFA targeted sub-groups down to – in some cases – an individual level. It works best with a younger demographic that is connected by more than a telephone. Each device used by a person is a force-multiplier when it comes to messaging. Younger voters (we’re talking under 45, not just “kids”) are the target demographic because they can use smaller dollars to make more contacts. Twitter is cheap, and so are SMS alerts. Old-school mailers and phone buzzing works for everyone else, but OFA was used to get the younger set to do that work for them – Obama supporters were given names, addresses and told to make “just three contacts and tell them to get out to vote!”

    It worked.

    The problem for the GOP is that these younger voters are going to have more liberal viewpoints that older voters, and that is where the GOP sucks. Simply put, the best facets of the tech appeal to people least likely to be socially conservative. There would be outlier cases in the GOP – socially conservative people who are also younger and tied in. But the idea that the GOP can “out OFA” the DNC is a joke.

    The GOP has a decision to make: bigger tent or retrenched dogmatic theological divisiveness. Already the social conservatives swear the election loss was because they didn’t complain about other people’s lifestyle choices more – that the GOP was not conservative enough. But the simple truth is they just cannot win an election.

    The abortion and gay thing is a battle lost for the GOP. They will become to the GOP what Gun Control is for the DNC: something you don’t talk about because it’s not going anywhere, and it hurts when you bring it up.

    The GOP demographic is drying up while the DNC demographic is expanding. My wife is pretty damn conservative, but all the abortion and anti-gay rhetoric was a definite turn off to her. Same here. I am not arguing those issues in this post, but do point out that there are many like us. We are not represented.

    I think the NRA did a bang-up job this election. They couldn’t swing it alone, but they brought enough noise to show the other side that in a tighter race, they can make hay. Just because they didn’t connect with every swing does not mean our opponents should not be afraid of that very big bat. I think we’ll see some gun controllers learn that lesson over the next few years. They ain’t Obama, and taking us on without his coat-tails won’t be smart.

    1. I’m not suggesting other changes don’t need to come with that. The GOP message does not appeal to young people. They need to do something about that. Ironically I think NRA helps them there more than hurts them, because gun control isn’t an issue for this generation. But if there can be a generational shift in the GOP, they need to be ready to communicate with those people the way they are used to communicating.

      1. I don’t believe the problem is with the GOP messaging. The problem is with what they are actually doing and voting for/against. Look at the Alabama and Arizona anti-immigration laws. Look at bills that Congress opposed just to be against Obama. These are actions, not words, and they hurt when it’s election time.

  2. NRA knows nothing about technology. NRANews is great, but as for using tech to move a legislative/political agenda, forget it. They’re operating like they did 20+ years ago.

  3. For an old guy, I know a lot of millenials . I like them better than many of my generation. Many are pro life, but they manifest it by volunteering for a local crisis pregnancy center instead of attending political rallies. They are indeed much less judgmental. They are almost uniformly open to try shooting as simply something fun to do.

    The GOP has no chance with most of them. NRA might if they spend some resources on shooting as simply a really fun experience. You mentioned a while back that the gun ban forces are like the dour puritans. We can win young people by being the cavaliers.

    1. You hit it on the head: the GOP won’t get Millenials; Gen-Xers look askance at them; Hispanics are being driven away; blacks run away and anyone concerned about “women’s issues” (abortion, contraception) has to put up with dour old men talking about what women should do with their bits.

      Is this over generalization? Yes. But it’s also the viewpoint of the majority of people who vote. Fair or not, the reputation is there.

      I’d personally love to see the “Old” of GOP tossed. New blood.

      Wish I had time to run for dog catcher.

  4. I have never traveled farther than Philadelphia (25 miles) to attend an NRA Convention, so I may not make a good data point. And I am technically too old to be a Baby Boomer, much less a Millenial or Generation Xer. But. . .

    I think NRA’s annual promotions of its conventions are telling, with regard to their problem. If it weren’t for the trade exhibits featured, I would find nothing at all attractive about them, and their promotion of celebrities from the broader “culture wars” are actually turnoffs for me. People like Jonathan Falwell, Jerry Boykin, and Ted Nugent I’d prefer not to be in the same hall with. And if I were to quiz my Generation X kids on their desire to associate themselves with those people — if they knew who they were — would be met with eye-rolls.

    The point of that is, that the NRA would seem to be way behind the curve in terms of who it seeks to appeal to — whether to attract members to their conventions, or, the culture semantics it uses in its outreach.

  5. In 2008, Obama’s actual record on the issue wasn’t nearly as bad as his rhetoric either, and this time around, his actual record on the issue was more pro-gun than anti.

  6. From the Resident Paulite:

    Funny enough Ron Paul did GREAT with Millennials, and used the internet to great success. He seriously had college kids screaming “END THE FED!” Which they learned about on the Internet.

  7. I am very conservative. I have an actual autographed picture of Ronald Reagan with a personal message to me, not some autopen fake job, on the wall of my den. I believe in leaving people alone to live their lives as they see fit. That means pro-gay rights, pro-gun rights, against a lot of do-gooder government intervention and spending, in favor of low taxes. Etc. I left the Republican Party twice. Once for 16 months to join the Democratic Party to vote in the Philly mayor’s primary election against John Street and in favor of a candidate who supported gay rights. I left again in the middle of GWB’s administration in disgust at the Police State they were creating in this country. I went back recently so that I could vote in the Republican presidential primary, but there was nothing to vote about when the primary got here. The Republican Party has nothing to offer for me. They go out of their way to protect the very, very rich and it is people like me that they want to squeeze when it comes to tax time so that I will have to pay more. Thanks a lot, Pat Toomey. With “friends” like him in the Senate, I don’t need to worry about the Democrats because I am too busy worrying about what the Republicans will do to raise my tax bills. The rabid anti-immigrant thing has created a terrific black market in illegal immigrant labor. The “crackdowns” make it a lot easier for the employers to tell the illegals to work in the unsafe, or unfair conditions, live four to a room at a local motel, accept very little pay and no benefits and do not say a word to anyone or the “authorities” will deport your butt post haste. All that does is allow employers to get away with exploiting these illegal immigrants and denying them the minimum wages and work rules that they have to abide by for legal citizen workers. The “crackdown” does nothing to actually protect the jobs of American workers who are right to be upset about being displaced by the illegals. I don’t support abortion, i think it is gross and inhumane, but I don’t support the government having the right to dictate how people live their lives and until the Supreme Court reverses Roe vs. Wade, we can not eliminate legal abortion. We’ve already got the laws that prevent spending tax money on abortions, let’s be happy about that and stop trying to make every campaign about abortion after rape. At this point, I really think the Republicans are a lost cause. I see no reason to stick around. I need Democrats who are pro-gun. At this time, I’ll bet half the “anti-gun” Democrats in State legislatures and in the U.S. Congress are actually either neutral on the issue or even pro-gun, but they can’t vote that way because “pro-gun” is a Republican cause and voting pro-gun would help their rivals. But what if their DEMOCRAT voters were pro-gun, too? What if I am a Democrat from this point forward, and i am advocating for pro-gun candidates in the Democrat primaries? Will my side win in next year’s elections? Maybe not. But 10 years from now, maybe we have completed our take over and the Democrat Party is OURS.

    1. First, I would say that from everything you’ve said, I would really question your choice to label yourself “conservative.” But, I won’t suggest an alternative.

      I for one don’t think your idea of trying to sway the Democratic Party is all that outrageous. For one thing, I don’t think most Democrats are all that motivated by their anti-gun planks; they probably don’t care that much, and therefor would not be greatly offended by a pro-gun Democrat in their midst. You might have a problem though, if you spoke out against one of their darlings on that issue — or of course, any issue. That’s politics.

      As a fairly sincere “No Party” registered voter, I don’t care much for either major party, but have gone back and forth on which party I dislike the most. Right now I dislike the Republican Party the most, for many of the reasons you itemized. It would take a lot to make me register with a party again (even to vote in a primary election) but if you turned up on a ballot as a Democrat you’d almost certainly get my vote!

  8. Maybe it’s time to divorce gun issues from politics (yes, I know that’s a non sequitur). I’ve thought for several years that 2012 would be the last election cycle for the GOP as we know it; whether it restructures itself (unlikely) or is replaced by a new structure (more likely but not guaranteed) is irrelevant – what we have now is unworkable and continuing to support it is a waste of time and money. Continuing to tie gun ownership and gun rights to whatever the GOP thinks it’s current brand of “conservatism” is will result in gun owners proudly standing on the deck of a sinking ship.

    Owning and/or using guns must become a universal activity irrespective of any political, social, racial or sexual position, and here’s where NRA dollars can have a greater impact. Assuming, of course, the hide-bound gang on Waples Mill Road can see beyond their own noses.

    All of us here know shooting is fun, some of us are more dedicated than others (competitors, collectors), most of us recognize the value of firearms in our personal lives (self defense, hunting) and quite a few of us realize that greatly broadening the appeal of guns is crucial to survival of our gun ownership rights.

    I think it’s time for the NRA, and other pro-rights groups which may be associated with guns (even some associated to a lesser degree) to create a foundation infrastructure to make use and ownership of guns a mainstream activity.

    Example: A modern, clean and attractive gun store and range, staffed by polite, aware people, could advertise itself as a “date night destination.” A 15 minute safety briefing, a semi-auto .22, targets and 200 rounds of ammunition for $20 aligns itself with the Chili’s/Applebee’s “two entrees for $20” thought process and capitalizes on their ads. Make it easy to participate, make it fun and keep it cheap and interesting. When we get to the point where the regular choices become dinner and a movie, going bowling or going to the gun range we’ll be well on the way to winning permanently (thought: a tie-in between gun ranges and dining establishments; a gun range putting discount coupons on restaurant receipts). Here’s where NRA range expertise and some seed money can be a big help. A small to medium size gun store and range in a strip mall to make it as convenient to go shooting as to go shopping or bowling, even if the range is .22LR only, would go a long way to bringing new people, and new support, into shooting.

    Example: Greater access to Appleseed events, in the form of an inexpensive Saturday afternoon half-day “Appleseed introduction event” with .22 rifles and ammunition provided, would entice those who have more than a passing interest. If their interest is piqued, apply some of their half-day fees to a two-day Appleseed event.

    I could list 20 more examples, but you get the idea.

    More ranges – especially ranges that are attractive and polite – can bring many new people to shooting and gun ownership and become a “grass roots inoculation center” for people of all political stripes against politician’s machinations to reduce or eliminate gun rights. Do we care if someone is a far left liberal or a far right conservative if he or she thinks shooting is fun and becomes resistant to political attempts to reduce or eliminate it? A vote for our position is a vote for our position no matter where it comes from.

    1. “Assuming, of course, the hide-bound gang on Waples Mill Road can see beyond their own noses.”

      I will not make any accusations, because I don’t know, but I think we need to suspect that many of the “hide-bound” out there are not so much hide-bound, as desirous of dragging along another agenda on top of (or instead of) a strictly RKBA agenda. In which case, it becomes our job to see beyond our own noses and do something about it.

      Among my many Old Stories, from personal experience, is one about taking part in a nascent pro-gun group in our state, where the chairman who we appointed turned out to be a “stealth” infiltrator. Not that he was anti-gun, per se, but he had no interest in guns, and we didn’t know that until his wife inadvertently outed him. Meanwhile, he spent all of his time lobbying the rest of us to expand the scope of the organization to “other” issues. The minute his wife outed him, he disappeared and was never seen nor heard from again.

      (If I frequently expose some of my biases, here, they arise from too much exposure to that sort of thing.)

      1. @Andy B. – I won’t disagree at all with that assessment. I’ve done a couple business turnarounds and several major re-orgs. Rule One is “pick the 3 absolutely crucial life-or-death things this business must accomplish and focus completely on them until they are accomplished. Everything else is, to quote Randy Waterhouse, just making license plates.”

        1) RKBA
        2) Outreach to new shooters
        3) Competition

        Lather, rinse, repeat.

  9. “If NRA and other groups keep messaging to the old, they will die with the old.”

    That is the most important statement in the entire post. I’ve never attended an NRA University session but I would be interested if it involves a message more in tune with that age group regarding social media or if it is more of what they do in the Grassroots Seminars. Bitter did a great job showing how we can use social media in St. Louis but I wonder how many in the audience really understood what she was talking about.

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