Kavanaugh Fight Having An Impact On The Midterms?
At least for the moment, the fight over Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court appears to be helping Republicans rally their base for November. The question is whether it will last after the fight is over.
As the Brett Kavanaugh nomination fight moves toward its end, a new poll from National Public Radio and Marist College suggests that the battle has, at least for now, caused an uptick in Republican enthusiasm for the midterm elections that could have an impact on the battle for control of Congress:
Just over a month away from critical elections across the country, the wide Democratic enthusiasm advantage that has defined the 2018 campaign up to this point has disappeared, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.
In July, there was a 10-point gap between the number of Democrats and Republicans saying the November elections were “very important.” Now, that is down to 2 points, a statistical tie.
Democrats’ advantage on which party’s candidate they are more likely to support has also been cut in half since last month. Democrats still retain a 6-point edge on that question, but it was 12 points after a Marist poll conducted in mid-September.
The results come amid the pitched and hotly partisan confirmation battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Multiple women have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct when he was in high school and college. He categorically denies all the allegations. The FBI is conducting a supplemental investigation into the accusations that is expected to be wrapped up by the end of this week.
With Democrats already fired up for this election, the Kavanaugh confirmation fight has apparently had the effect of rousing a dormant GOP base.
“The result of hearings, at least in the short run, is the Republican base was awakened,” noted Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll.
While Democrats and Republicans are now equally enthusiastic about the midterms, the story is very different for key Democratic base groups and independents. While 82 percent of Democrats say the midterms are very important, that’s true of just 60 percent of people under 30, 61 percent of Latinos and 65 percent of independents.
Looking deeper into the poll, we find similar numbers
- Among Democrats, the poll in July showed that 81% of women and 73% of men were enthusiastic about voting in November. The new poll shows a slight dip in enthusiasm among Democratic women to 79% while enthusiasm among Democratic men has increased to 80%;
- Among Independents, the numbers based on gender match those for this demographic as a while. In July 64% of both self-identified Independent men and women said they were enthusiastic about voting. In the new poll, that number has increased to 65% for both groups;
- Among Republicans, meanwhile, the July poll showed that 71% of Republican women were enthusiastic about voting. That number has jumped to 83% in the latest poll. Among Republican men, meanwhile, 66% said they were enthusiastic about voting while 78% say that today.
The change in the voter enthusiasm gap, then, reflects not so much that Democrats have become less enthusiastic, but that Republicans have become decidedly more enthusiastic. While at least part of that can likely be attributed to the fact that the election is close and people are paying more attention to races at the local and national level than they were over the summer, it seems clear that a good part of this jump can be attributed to the Kavanaugh nomination and the rallying effect it has had for Republican voters. Or, as Philip Bump puts it, the Republican defense of Kavanaugh appears to have worked, at least as far as rallying the Republican base:
President Trump succeeded remarkably in establishing the benchmark that Kavanaugh needed to surpass after the allegations emerged, and it wasn’t a full reckoning of his past behavior or fidelity in his approach to that reckoning. It was, instead, that Kavanaugh needed to withstand the anger of his Democratic opponents, no matter how manufactured or how righteous. By slotting this fight into the familiar, comfortable fight of Democrats vs. Republicans, Trump managed to dramatically shift the odds in the favor of his nominee.
It’s important to remember the context of the moment in which Kavanaugh’s nomination was presented. It’s a moment when more than half of Republicans and Democrats see members of the other party as posing a serious threat to the United States. It’s a moment in which half of Republicans and half of Democrats say that they fear those on the other side. When more than 4 in 10 see the other party as dishonest.
That’s fertile soil for an effort to shift questions about Kavanaugh from ones about the allegations he faces — which remain as robust, or now even more so, as when they were first introduced — to questions about what the Democrats are trying to do to a conservative. That the first report about Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations came from a letter leaked to the news media that had been sitting on the desk of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) didn’t help that perception, certainly, but even had Feinstein made it public in late July, when she first received it, it’s hard to believe that much of the ensuing fight would have taken a significantly different sheen.
The effort to overlay partisanship on the Kavanaugh nomination is proven as successful perhaps most obviously by a column from the New York Times’s Bret Stephens. Stephens has been a critic of Trump, but on Thursday morning offered a defense of the president.
“I’m grateful because Trump has not backed down in the face of the slipperiness, hypocrisy and dangerous standard-setting deployed by opponents of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court,” Stephens writes. “I’m grateful because ferocious and even crass obstinacy has its uses in life, and never more so than in the face of sly moral bullying.”
Stephens stands with Trump now because the president and his allies successfully made the Kavanaugh nomination about standing not with the nominee but with the political right, of which Stephens is a member. The Kavanaugh nomination was positioned in a way that was specifically meant to entice people like Stephens (or the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal) and it worked. Kavanaugh’s nomination is overwhelmingly supported by Republicans to the point that it is now the most polarizing issue of Trump’s administration. That level of polarization is going to bring people off the benches.
The Generic Congressional Ballot, meanwhile, continues to show the Democrats with an advantage, but it has stayed within the same range it has been in since the middle of the summer:
- A new Economist/YouGov poll, for example, gives Democrats (45%) a five-point advantage over Republicans (40%), which is a dip of three points for the Democrats from the previous poll conducted by YouGov;
- The aforementioned NPR/Marist Poll meanwhile shows Democrats (48%) with a six-point advantage over Republicans (42%), a gap that is not statistically different from where the poll stood a month ago;
- The newest Reuters/IPSOS poll, meanwhile, put Democrats at their largest margin of any recent poll with 50% saying they would vote for a Democratic candidate in November while just 38% say they’d vote Republican. This is a twelve-point advantage for Democrats, which is significantly higher than the 7% advantage that the previous IPSOS poll gave to Democrats;
- The newest Harvard-Harris poll, meanwhile, gives Democrats (45%) an eight-point advantage over Republicans (37%), which is not very different from the nine-point advantage that Democrats had in the previous Harris poll;
- In the Quinnipiac poll, Democrats (49%) have a seven-point lead over Republicans (42%), which is a significant drop from the fourteen-point advantage that Democrats had in a Quinnipiac poll taken a month ago long before the Kavanaugh story began eating up the news cycle;
- Finally, the latest Rasmussen poll, which has tended to favor Republicans over Democrats, shows Democrats (47%) a five-point lead over Republicans (42%)
The polling averages and forecasts, meanwhile, show similar numbers:
- In the RealClearPolitics average, Democrats ( 48.7%) have a +7.7 point lead over Republicans (41%), which is slightly below where it stood just over two weeks ago;
- In the Pollster average, Democrats (47.1%) have a +6.8 point lead over Republicans (40.3%), a slight increase in the Democratic advantage in the past two weeks;
- In the FiveThirtyEight average, Democrats (49.3%) have a +8.0 point lead over Republicans (41,3%), a decrease in the Democratic advantage we saw two weeks ago;
- The FiveThirtyEight House Forecast, meanwhile, gives Democrats a 74.9% chance at winning the House and gives Republicans a 25.1% chance of holding on to the House; and,
- Finally, the FiveThirtyEight Senate Forecast gives Republicans a 76,7% chance of holding on to the Senate and Democrats just a 23,3% chance of capturing the Senate.
All of this is reflected in the RealClearPolitics chart:
All of these polls were taken in the period since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and two other women have come forward with accusations against Judge Kavanaugh, and several of them were taken during the period immediately after last Thursday’s hearing. At the same time, it’s worth noting that they may only be reflecting the leading edge of public opinion on the nomination, the accusations against Kavanaugh, and the manner in which all of that has been handled by the Senate and the White House.
Nate Silver, meanwhile, notes that the Kavanaugh fight appears to be having an impact but, so far, it appears to mostly be impacting Senate elections.
Overall, I’m inclined to conclude there’s actually something there for Republicans — that their position has genuinely improved from where it was a week ago (although, not necessarily as compared to where it was a monthago). But I’m also wary of the idea that this is necessarily a turning point, since it wouldn’t take much — a couple of good generic ballot polls for Democrats, plus a handful of good state-level results in places like North Dakota — to reverse the GOP gains in our forecast. There is truth in the idea that Republicans have had a decent week of polling, but it can also be exaggerated by cherry-picking data that’s consistent with a particular narrative.
Finally, it should go without saying that this is still a dynamic situation, and it doesn’t necessarily follow that the party that “wins” the battle over Kavanaugh will benefit electorally. The opposite could prove true. A CBS News/YouGov poll conducted earlier this week found that more voters would be angry than enthusiastic if Kavanaugh was confirmed — but also, more voters would be angry than enthusiastic if Kavanaugh was not confirmed. Whichever party doesn’t get its way on Kavanaugh will have more reason to feel aggrieved — and perhaps more motivation to turn out to vote.
Considering that it is the Senate that is dealing with the nomination fight, that’s not entirely surprising. However, if these numbers hold up and the Kavanaugh fight, however it turns out, ends up drawing more Republicans to the polls then that will have an impact on the battle for the House of Representatives. The question is whether this enthusiasm surge will keep up after the fight is over. As I said, it’s not surprising that the Kavanaugh fight has had an impact on Republican enthusiasm ahead of the midterms, what isn’t clear is what the impact of this fight will be in the closing weeks of the campaign. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, as I expect he will be, then this story will inevitably slip out of the news cycle. At that point, it’s possible that Republican enthusiasm could drop somewhat since the fate of the nomination will no longer be front and center, or that the win will cause GOP voters to become even more enthusiastic. If the nomination were to fail, obviously, this would likely cause Republicans to be more eager to vote to ensure they hold on to the Senate so that another nominee can get through. On the Democratic side, a win for the Administration on the nomination could lead Democrats to become more focused on beating Republicans, In this case, though, the important battles will be in the battleground Senate states, where Republicans seem to have a clear advantage.
Ultimately, this will all depend on the voters but right now it looks like we’re heading toward a battle of the bases and that whichever party is better at bringing their base to the polls will be the one that ends up coming out ahead.