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Andrea Mitchell Confounded By NRA's 'Surprising' Popularity in New Poll

A perplexed Andrea Mitchell on Thursday highlighted a new NBC poll finding high favorability numbers for the National Rifle Association, results she deemed "surprising." The veteran journalist proclaimed: "The NRA brand has been fairly toxic in many of the debates, the gun debates especially since Newtown, but their membership base is broad and deep." [MP3 audio here.] One reason the brand has been "toxic" is because of relentlessly negative coverage from reporters.

Yet, NBC political editor Mark Murray explained, "Despite a lot of the criticism the NRA has received in the month after the Newtown shootings, the NRA has a 41 percent favorable rating, compared to just 34 percent unfavorable." Contributor Chris Cillizza added that "inside the Beltway and in big cities in this country," the NRA may be "akin to a curse word. It is not in the vast majority of the country."

According to the survey, the NRA is significantly more popular than the entertainment industry.

Murray insisted that the NRA's high numbers are "a lot more favorable than some people might anticipate." However, he also made a telling point:

MARK MURRAY: And then, when our poll looked back in the 1990s, the NRA's negative numbers actually outweighed its positive ones, so the NRA is in a better position politically heading into this fight than it was about ten years ago.

Mitchell quickly moved to tout: "Still, there is a disconnect, we are told, between what the NRA says and what their membership believe in terms of some more reasonable limits on guns."

Cillizza seemed to forecast a heavily negative media narrative for the conservative group: "I would say it is uniquely possible that the next several months will see a decline in the NRA's numbers as they come into the spotlight."

With journalists like Andrea Mitchell, that's quite possible.

[Thanks to MRC intern Paul Bremmer for the transcript.]

A transcript of the January 17 segment, which aired at 1:01pm EST:

ANDREA MITCHELL: Good day. I'm Andrea Mitchell live in Washington. Our new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll is real, and it shows that White House officials knew just how difficult the fight is going to be to pass the President's new gun proposals. The President's biggest public opponent on this issue, the National Rifle Association, carries a favorable rating nationally. The entertainment industry, not so much. It was not mentioned in the president's remarks on Wednesday, and it is seen negatively by nearly four in ten Americans. Joining me now for our daily fix, Chris Cilizza, MSNBC contributor and managing editor of PostPolitics.com, and our own NBC News senior political editor, Mark Murray. Mark, first to you on the poll. Some surprising numbers on the NRA, particularly, of course, among gun owners, but also nationally.

MARK MURRAY: Despite a lot of the criticism the NRA has received in the month after the Newtown shootings, the NRA has a 41 percent favorable rating, compared to just 34 percent unfavorable. Andrea, you are right that it's a lot more favorable than some people might anticipate, and it's also been very stable. These numbers are almost identical to what we saw in 2011. Of course, that was two years before the Newtown shootings. And then, when our poll looked back in the 1990s, the NRA's negative numbers actually outweighed its positive ones, so the NRA is in a better position politically heading into this fight than it was about ten years ago.

MITCHELL: We talk about brands, Chris Cilizza: the NRA brand has been fairly toxic in many of the debates, the gun debates especially since Newtown, but their membership base is broad and deep. Is that what we are to read from this?

CHRIS CILIZZA: Well, I would say two things to take from it. One, Andrea, and Mark makes this point. One is that, look, the NRA, I think inside the Beltway and in big cities in this country is akin to a curse word. It is not in the vast majority of the country. There is a disconnect that exists here about the NRA. The second thing, and you hit on it, which is right, this is a membership organization four million strong. They continue to add members in the wake of this. This is-- those four million people equal not four million voters, but lots and lots of voters. They do spend a lot of money on politics, and they do, but I think one of the real ways in which they impact Congress, Andrea, is they can say they can have however many members live in a particular congressional district call the member and say we don't want this. They have a way, a grassroots way, to activate a large base of people who believe in the ideals that they espouse.

MITCHELL: Still, there is a disconnect, we are told, between what the NRA says and what their membership believe in terms of some more reasonable limits on guns. Mark, I know the rest of the NBC News poll is going to be revealed later tonight. We’ll have Chuck Todd, of course, on Nightly News and on MSNBC, but let's talk about the just general polling on gun limitations, on limitations on the magazines, for instance.

MURRAY: You look at all the polling that's been out there over the past month or so after the Newtown shootings, and if you are someone who wants more curbs on guns, you want to limit more guns, have more gun control, the things are that look at all those individual components. The polling looks pretty good for you right now. Whether it's the limiting the magazines, the cartridges and that. Also, the one thing the White House really wants and a lot of gun advocates want is universal background checks that remain very, very popular right now.

MITCHELL: Yet in my interview with David Keene yesterday, and in all the interviews with gun advocates, the organized gun lobby, they are just brooking no compromise at all. They're not willing to even talk about conceding to some of the things their own members say they would support.

CILIZZA: You know, Andrea, it's clearly an issue there. You know, Mark mentioned that in the 1990s the numbers for the NRA were not nearly as good as they are today. I would say it is uniquely possible that the next several months will see a decline in the NRA's numbers as they come into the spotlight. The truth of the matter is that, since the mid-1990s, we really haven't had an active debate over the right role of guns and gun rights groups in this country. My guess is those numbers come down a little bit. I would say the web video that the NRA ran, some of the statements by Wayne LaPierre run the risk of marginalizing a group that I do not think is its membership, a marginal group in terms of their belief system in this country. So that’s the danger and the fight over the next couple of months will play it out.

-- Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.