His polling’s been soft since the nomination was announced, by some measures the thinnest margin of support for a SCOTUS nominee since Harriet Miers. I won’t bore you again with my theories for why that likely has little to do with Kavanaugh and everything to do with the political dynamics, starting with the fact that this is the first vacancy that will meaningfully affect the ideological balance of the Court since Alito replaced O’Connor in 2005. *Any* solid conservative nominated to replace Anthony Kennedy was going to make some centrists nervous.
But it’s a fact, as Nate Silver says, that Supreme Court nominations for both parties typically poll better than this. The odds would heavily favor confirmation if the vote were held today, yet Kavanaugh surely has less margin for error in the confirmation process than, say, Neil Gorsuch did. And it *may* be that his polls are declining. You wouldn’t want to draw any firm inferences from a data set of three or four surveys, but these Quinnipiac numbers are worse than those in Gallup and Pew last week.
Another way to put that is that while it’s true, as Ed noted earlier, that Democrats have thus far failed to land any solid shots on Kavanaugh, it might only take one solid shot to knock him over. And with the public now evenly divided on him, we might have to acknowledge that the hysterical liberal scaremongering about him is beginning to bite. Not a lot, but a bit. For comparison purposes, here’s how Neil Gorsuch was polling last year in Quinnipiac’s survey shortly before he was confirmed:
And here’s how Kavanaugh is polling today:
Republicans are at about the same level of support for both nominees (slightly stronger for Kavanaugh!), but Democrats were meaningfully more supportive of Gorsuch and independents were way more supportive, a net swing of 36 points(!) between the last nominee and the current one. Both men and women are less likely to support Kavanaugh than they were Gorsuch, but the shift is obviously more pronounced among the latter — from +5 to -14. Is that a “Roe” effect or just women’s liberal lean at work? Even Trump’s base of whites without a college degree was far more in favor of Gorsuch than they are of Kavanaugh, from +41 last year to +16 now.
As I say, you can dismiss all of these differences if you like on ideological grounds. By virtue of whom he’s replacing, Kavanaugh’s confirmation will shift the Court further to the right than Gorsuch’s nomination did. To phrase that differently, it may be that Gorsuch would be pulling Kavanaugh-style numbers right now if he had been nominated to replace Kennedy and Kavanaugh had been nominated to replace Scalia. But don’t be so sure. Remember, not only did Gorsuch inherit “Merrick Garland’s seat” on the Court after Mitch McConnell refused to give Garland a hearing, McConnell and the GOP actually blew up the Senate filibuster for SCOTUS nominees to put him on the Court. Both were extraordinary circumstances, potentially portending an unusual degree of public opposition. But it didn’t happen. It’s Kavanaugh, who’s being confirmed under more normal circumstances, who’s seeing the stronger opposition. Huh.
One other factor that occurs to me is that Gorsuch may have benefited from being nominated at the very start of Trump’s term. Trump never really had a “honeymoon period” with voters but to the extent that he did it was in those first few months of his presidency. Plus, it was clear all the way through the campaign that whoever won the election would have the right to fill the Scalia vacancy; it may be that voters were prepared to view Gorsuch’s nomination a bit more favorably for that reason, because they’d been “expecting” a very conservative justice since election night. And maaaaaybe Gorsuch also benefited from the fact that his nomination was the most quintessentially “normal” thing that Trump did early on. There was sturm and drang over the travel ban, over his cabinet appointments, and a hundred other things, but Gorsuch was an eminently qualified, highly regarded, low-key judge. Nominating a guy whom any other Republican president might have nominated may have felt reassuring to a public that was still skittish about a Trump presidency. With Kavanaugh, the novelty of that has worn off somewhat. Trump has already proved that he’s willing and able to nominate traditional conservative judges. There’s nothing “reassuring” about the Kavanaugh nomination unless you’re a conservative.
Exit quotation from a different pollster, Marist, also with new data today: “The poll shows a real lack of consensus on Kavanaugh, with Americans split on whether they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports him (31 percent) or opposes him (33 percent).”