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“Do Gun Policy Specifics Matter? Hyper-Polarization And The Decline Of Vote Splitting In Congress”

Genevieve Quinn
From the journal The Forum

Abstract

By tracing the changing electoral incentives and political circumstances of partisans in Congress over time, this paper unpacks how and why substantive policy content has lost its relevance for influencing Congressional voting on gun control. It argues that as gun control positions have crystallized to become part of partisan identity, policy specifics have come to matter less for partisans in Congress than the general pro gun control or pro gun rights position that a piece of legislation symbolizes. Today, regardless of the specific policy contents of a bill, a gun vote serves as a signaling device from members of Congress to their partisan supporters that they are either passionate defenders of the Second Amendment (Republicans) or fierce protectors of America’s children from gun violence (Democrats). That policy content has lost its relevance for Congressional voting on gun control is evident through the marked decline in vote splitting, the extinction of gun control moderates, and the all or nothing voting behavior of partisan shifters – those formerly pro-control Republicans, anti-control Democrats, and gun control moderates who shifted positions over time to vote the party line.


Corresponding author: Dr. Genevieve Quinn, Postdoctoral researcher, E-mail:

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Published Online: 2020-09-29

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