Polls: Opinions on Kavanaugh Grew More Entrenched

Polls: Opinions on Kavanaugh Grew More Entrenched
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool
Polls: Opinions on Kavanaugh Grew More Entrenched
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool
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When Labor Day vacation ended and Congress returned from recess, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, appeared to be on track to garner a Senate majority, and even win a handful of Democratic votes. On Sept. 14, however, the first of several allegations of sexual misconduct emerged against Judge Kavanaugh, and on Sept. 28, the Senate committee and the country heard testimony from him and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. Over that time period, public opinion concerning the nominee shifted dramatically.

According to YouGov’s weekly poll, only 45 percent of respondents had heard “a lot” about Kavanaugh’s nomination by Sept. 8. That sort of low profile is ideal for a judicial nominee — more attention generally means a more difficult confirmation process. However, once Blasey Ford’s story went public, attention to the nomination increased. By Sept. 22, 52 percent of the survey’s respondents had heard “a lot” about the nomination, a number that increased to 65 in the aftermath of last month’s supplemental hearing.  Eighty-eight percent of respondents had heard at least “a little” about the nomination.

As the nominee’s public profile grew, support for him dropped among the general public. Prior to the allegations of sexual assault, 63 percent of Americans with an opinion on the issue thought the judge was qualified for a seat on the Supreme Court, and a slight plurality (36 percent to 30 percent) favored his confirmation. By Sept. 29, however, more survey respondents believed Kavanaugh was unqualified (41 percent) than qualified (38 percent), and the general public opposed his confirmation by a 12-point margin.

Support for Kavanaugh was already divided along party lines when the allegations became public. Since then, partisans have become even more deeply entrenched in their beliefs. As the table below indicates, Democrats have been strongly opposed to Kavanaugh since the beginning of the confirmation battle, with 45 percent believing him unqualified and 61 percent favoring rejection of his nomination on Sept. 8. At the same time, three-fourths of Republicans deemed Kavanaugh qualified and wanted him confirmed.

In the weeks since, these positions have hardened even further.  In the Sept. 29 poll, the proportion of Democrats who thought Kavanaugh was unqualified rose by nearly 30 percentage points, with 83 percent of them opposing his confirmation.  During the same period, Republican support for the judge’s confirmation rose to 78 percent, with 80 percent saying he was qualified for the position. In other words, the number of Republicans who found Kavanaugh “qualified” to serve on the Supreme Court increased even as Senate Democrats portrayed him as morally unfit for the job. 

The opinions of highly active partisans are even more polarized: Of those who identified themselves as “Strong Democrats” in the most recent YouGov poll, 89 percent were against confirmation, with 86 percent of “Strong Republicans” holding the opposite position. 

But what about independents? As Democrats and Republicans became more deeply committed to their positions, independents slowly grew more aware of the nomination fight. Independents generally tend to be less politically engaged than partisans and, accordingly, only 31 percent reported hearing “a lot” about the nomination by Sept. 8.

At that point, a majority of independents with an opinion on the matter (64 percent) believed Kavanaugh was qualified, while a plurality thought he should be confirmed (29 percent-20 percent).  However, in the three weeks since the allegations first surfaced, independent have become significantly more aware of — and more opposed to — the president’s nominee.  By Sept. 22, 52 percent of them had heard “a lot” about the nomination, a number that rose to 65 percent by Sept. 29. This increased attention turned independent opinion against Kavanaugh, and as of today, those individuals firmly oppose his appointment to the court (43 percent-24 percent).

Whether this partisan blood bath has also turned all-important independent-minded voters against the party in control of the White House and Congress is a question that is likely to be answered on Nov. 6.

David Brady is a professor of political science at Stanford University and the Davies Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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