Alternate headline: It’s all fun and games until it stops being hypothetical. Twitter pal Crazy Uncle Tim refers us to a somewhat overlooked survey from Marquette earlier this month. Marquette published it over the weekend after the death of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made the issue acute. Just what do Americans expect if a Supreme Court vacancy opens up in the middle of a presidential election?
Hypothetically speaking, two-thirds expect the Senate to do its job. Granted, that has probably changed significantly since Friday, but prior to that it wasn’t even a partisan issue:
The question of holding hearings and a vote on confirming a new justice immediately became an issue with Justice Ginsburg’s death, as it had following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. In this poll, conducted in the days before Ginsburg’s death, a substantial majority of respondents of both parties say that if a vacancy occurred during the 2020 election year, the Senate should hold hearings on a nominee, with 67 percent saying hearings should be held and 32 percent saying they should not be held. Views on holding hearings do not vary much by partisanship, as shown in Table 3. This table will provide a baseline from before there was a vacancy against which to measure any future change in partisan views, if a nomination is made and considered.
This survey took place between September 8-15, when Ginsburg was known to be ill but widely believed to be overcoming her pancreatic cancer. That meant that the responses to this question lacked any particular acute interest at the time, allowing respondents to answer more from principle than in outcome. The table from Marquette shows the results of that principle, with all three partisan demos at more than 60% in favor of holding immediate confirmation hearings:
Needless to say, this differs greatly from the post-RBG passing perspective represented in today’s Reuters-Ipsos polling. There are reasons to be skeptical of that poll, but it’s not out of the question that the reality of this situation has changed minds — especially among Democrats and some independents. The Marquette sample is 50% larger at 1,523 adults (still not registered voters, though), and a somewhat more credible D/R/I of 36/29/25 and an even split on partisan lean among independents.
Furthermore, this set of respondents acts with overall consistency with their view of the 2016 Supreme Court standoff, although the partisans are a little more partisan-ish on that question:
By contrast, partisans are much more divided on whether the decision not to hold hearings in 2016 on the nomination of Merrick B. Garland was the right or wrong thing to do. Among all adults, 25 percent say that not holding hearings was the right thing to do, while 73 percent say that it was the wrong thing to do. Among Republicans, 45 percent say that not holding hearings was the right thing to do, but only 15 percent of Democrats agree. The full responses by party are shown in Table 4.
The partisan differences are wider on this question, but a majority in all three demos say that stalling Garland without a hearing and vote was the wrong thing to do. That might not change as much, although I’d expect to see Republican respondents perhaps spend more time justifying that move in light of the GOP’s full-court press on the nomination.
What about the process itself? Interestingly, three-quarters of respondents (78/21) believe that there would be no valid reason for senators to vote against a qualified candidate with no ethical issues on the table. That includes 74% of Democratic respondents. A smaller overall majority, but still 58/41, believe voting against a nominee because of specific positions on abortion, gun control, or affirmative action would be “unjustified.” Six in ten Republicans and independents feel that way, but Democrats split 52/47 for “unjustified.”
Expect those numbers to change in a big way once Trump makes his choice public. And expect all of these numbers to change once the hearings get under way.