Support For Kagan Lower Than Other Recent SCOTUS Nominees
PRINCETON, NJ — A USA Today/Gallup poll finds just under half of Americans, 46%, in favor of the Senate’s confirming Elena Kagan’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. That level of support is generally lower than what Gallup has found when it first polled about other recent court nominations, trailing all others except Harriet Miers and Robert Bork.
Generally, initial public support for Supreme Court nominees has not been high, reaching only 59% for John Roberts. This is partly because substantial proportions of Americans do not have opinions of the men and women chosen for the court. The level of unfamiliarity with recent nominees has varied from a low of 19% for Roberts and Sonia Sotomayor to a high of 44% for Bork.
The variation in the percentage of Americans who have no opinion of the nominees complicates historical comparisons. However, Kagan’s relatively low historical ranking holds up even when one calculates the percentage in favor of her nomination only among those who have an opinion. The 59% of those with an opinion of the Kagan nomination who support her confirmation exceeds only the 55% of those with an opinion of the Miers and Bork nominations who supported their confirmations. Using this standard, Americans were initially most supportive of the nominations of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas, and Roberts.
Kagan’s Senate confirmation hearings are set to begin later this month. In its history of polling about Supreme Court nominees, Gallup has generally found little change in the percentage favoring their confirmation during the confirmation process. To the extent that opinions change, it is generally in terms of a reduction in the percentage with no opinion and an increase in the percentage opposed.
The two other nominees who began the process with less than majority public backing ultimately were not confirmed: Miers’ nomination was withdrawn and Bork’s nomination was rejected in the Senate confirmation vote. At this point in the process, however, there does not seem to be much in Kagan’s background or in the political environment that would prevent her from becoming the first nominee to win confirmation with less than majority initial public backing.
So does this mean that Kagan’s nomination is in serious jeopardy in the way that Miers’ and Bork’s were ? Absolutely not.
In the end, I think that the public reaction to Kagan at the moment is a reflection of the fat that President Obama’s own approval numbers are mired in the high 40s and the fact that the public attention is focused elsewhere at the moment. Despite Gallup’s qualifications in the paragraphs above, I would suspect that public support for Kagan actually will increase, at least marginally, once the confirmation hearings begin in a few weeks. Unlike Bork, she does not appear to have any smoking guns in her background and does not appear poised to act in a way guaranteed to antagonize people during her confirmation hearings. Unlike Miers, there appears to be little question that Kagan is in fact intellectually qualified for the job she was nominated for. Add to this the fact that the Democrats have a very comfortable majority in the Senate and the fact that Republicans have essentially taken the filibuster off the table, and it becomes blindingly obvious that Elena Kagan is in absolutely no danger of not being confirmed.