Beto’s Gun Confiscation Gambit Failed To Make Polling Impact

O'Rourke's numbers barely budge from before debate declaration

Former U.S. representative Beto O'Rourke / Getty Images

Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke has seen no sustained increase in his polling since the September Democratic debate, where he vociferously supported gun confiscation.

In the RealClearPolitics polling average before September's debate, Beto averaged 2.8 percent support. His declaration at that debate that "hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47" appears to have had little impact: In Tuesday's average, Beto recorded 2.6 percent support. The interim has seen his average fluctuate between 3.3 percent and 1.6 percent.

Prior to his dramatic announcement, O'Rourke had supported other new gun control laws, including bans on the future sales of certain rifles. He began to support a mandatory buyback of those firearms—with possible jailtime for gun owners who do not comply—only after falling well below his initial polling average of 10 percent, as well as in the wake of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, this summer.

Rather than garnering new support, Beto's embrace of gun confiscation prompted backlash across the political spectrum. MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell said the move likely complicated efforts by Democrats to broker a gun-control deal with President Donald Trump. Billionaire gun-control activist Michael Bloomberg called it "so impractical." Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) said, "Beto O'Rourke's not taking my guns away from me." One mother even drove several hours to a campaign rally to tell Beto, "hell no you're not!"

While primary opponents Sens. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) and Cory Booker (D., N.J.) have offered support for a mandatory buyback program, other candidates, including frontrunner Joe Biden, have called the program legally unworkable. South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg took criticism of Beto's confiscation plan a step further, calling it a "shiny object" at a gun control forum earlier this month.

Conservative critics at the Dispatch were particularly harsh on Beto's strategy of coupling gun confiscation with a recent promise to strip tax-exempt status from faith-based organizations opposed to same-sex marriage.

"Either Beto was created in a lab by GOP political operatives to convince Republicans that Democrats really do want to do all the things they've spent years saying they don't," the site said in its Tuesday newsletter. "Or, he's stuck below 2 percent in the polls and he's looking for something—anything—that will create a moment viral enough to get him booked on cable news one last time."

It is unclear if the issue of gun control will come up at Tuesday night's debate. There has not been a headline-grabbing shooting since the last Democratic debate; such events have traditionally driven discourse around gun control within the national party. Regardless of whether he has the chance to talk about it, current trends make it unlikely that Beto's embrace of gun confiscation will boost his campaign out of the field's bottom tier.