The gun debate captured the attention of the nation and in the weeks since a background check bill died on the floor of the U.S. Senate, a Democratic polling firm's findings show senators who voted against the bill might want to rethink their decision.
Public Policy Polling released the latest in a series of surveys it has conducted that show five senators who voted against a bill that would have required all gun sales over the Internet and at gun shows to be subject to background checks, are in hot water with voters.
The survey was conducted last week between April 25 and 26. PPP surveyed more than 1,000 voters in Alaska, 600 in Arizona, 500 in Nevada and 600 in Ohio.
"The background checks vote is a rare one that really is causing these senators trouble back home," Dean Debnam, president of PPP said in a release. "All five of these senators ... have seen their approval numbers decline in the wake of this vote. And the numbers make it clear that their position on Manchin/Toomey is a major factor causing the downward spiral."
According to the poll, the gun vote is responsible for making Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., the least liked senator in office with an approval rating of just 32 percent. (He is stealing the title from Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.) The latest poll shows that more than 50 percent of his constituents disapprove of him.
Flake's vote against the background check bill was one of the most closely watched 'no' votes to come out of the Senate.
Flake is personal friends with and served in the U.S. House of Representatives alongside former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot in the head during a town hall meeting in 2011. Giffords and her husband former astronaut Mark Kelly worked overtime to convince Flake to vote for the background check bill that polls indicate more than 70 percent of Americans support. In the end, Flake expressed concerns that the bill would infringe on Second Amendment rights.
His office disputes the accuracy of the PPP survey.
"If early PPP polls were accurate, Senator Flake wouldn't be in office right now," says Genevieve Rozansky, Flake's press secretary.
The PPP poll also showed that in a future election, 52 percent of voters in the state were less likely to cast a ballot for Flake because of his position on the background check bill.
And he wasn't the only lawmaker who has seen poll numbers drop since the vote.
Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich both have seen a dip.
A PPP poll in February had Republican Murkowski with a 54 percent approval rating, one of the highest in the country. In the poll released Tuesday, she is at 46 percent with 41 percent disapproving of the job she is doing in Washington.
Begich, a Democrat, also saw his popularity slip from 49 percent to 41 percent as he eyes a challenging path to reelection in 2014. Begich's gun vote hurt him most among Democrats in the state who are unlikely to vote for the Republican in 2014, but it also set him back among independents. Among Republicans, PPP reports he is no more popular today than he was when the poll was taken in February and he earned 24 percent of Republicans' approval. However, 22 percent of all voters did say they were more likely to vote for Begich and likewise 26 percent of all voters said they were more inclined to vote for Murkowski as a result of their opposition to the measure.
PPP also cited a slight decline for Republican Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada and Rob Portman of Ohio who saw their approval ratings drop by 3 points and 9 points respectively.
Critics of the poll however, say that correlation does not guarantee causation.
For example, Portman's gun vote may have impacted his poll numbers back home, but the last PPP poll was taken in 2012 just after his name had been tossed around to be GOP nominee Mitt Romney's running mate and before he came out in support of gay marriage – the first GOP senator to do so.
"I would urge caution on it. How many people are actually plugged into the gun vote? I would like to see some additional polling," says Kyle Kondik, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. "That is not a diss At PPP, I am just inclined to want to see more information. If it turns out that there is a trend that the gun vote has this much impact, then this would be the best opportunity for gun-control advocates to get another vote, but I think it is too early to tell."