Polls say Kavanaugh will play in Democrats favor

Polls say Kavanaugh will play in Democrats favor
© Stefani Reynolds

Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSusan Collins raises .1 million in third quarter Poll: 50 percent of Maine voters disapprove of Susan Collins's job performance Collins challenger raises .2 million in third quarter MORE is on the Supreme Court but the jury is still out on the electoral impact of his bruising battle for confirmation. Republicans are celebrating their victory now but Democrats might be throwing the party on Nov. 6.

An NPR and PBS survey from three days after the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh reflect the difficulty in reaching a verdict on the midterms and the danger of using polls as predictions.


NPR’s resulting headlines based on the survey appear to contradict each other, with one asserting “Amid Kavanaugh Confirmation Battle, Democratic Enthusiasm Edge Evaporates,” while the other notes, “More Believe Ford Than Kavanaugh, A Cultural Shift From 1991.”

These contradictory headlines illustrate the difficulty in judging the effect the confirmation battle will have on midterm election results. The contradictions also bring into sharp relief the difficulty of interpreting public opinion.

The devil is in the details. A trained professional eye can make sense of data that confuses lay people. Only if you do a deep dive into the data that produce the headlines, is it possible to fit the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together.

The NPR/PBS survey does indicate that voters were more likely to believe Ford (45 percent) than Kavanaugh (33 percent). This represents a sharp spike in Ford’s credibility compared to what it was before the hearings (32 percent).

The credibility gap also indicates that there has been a significant cultural shift since the 1991 Senate hearings over sexual misconduct that culminated in the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

How the times have changed. CBS News and the New York Times conducted a national survey after Thomas and Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of sexual harassment, testified to the Senate in front of a national television audience. Despite Hill’s testimony, Americans were twice as likely to believe Thomas (50 percent) over Hill (24 perent).

Despite Ford’s credibility and the change in social norms, the Democratic edge in the midterm elections dropped from 12 percent to 6 percent. This may seem to be a contradiction but there is a method to this madness.

Why has support for Democratic congressional candidates decreased while support for Ford in the #MeToo era has increased? The answer is intensity.

The court of public opinion took Ford’s side but the battle galvanized the Republican base whose enthusiasm lagged way behind the Democratic base that supported Ford during the heated debate.

Democratic voters were hot to trot before the president even nominated Kavanaugh. They were much more likely (80 percent) to believe the midterm elections were “very important” back in July than their Republican counterparts (68 percent).

The new survey indicates the confirmation battle increased GOP enthusiasm (80 percent) to a level that is statistically equal to Democratic midterm mania (82 percent). The growth in GOP energy reduced the Democratic advantage.

It’s too early to tell though if the closing of the enthusiasm gap will help Republicans minimize their losses in November.

Ironically what is good for Kavanaugh may bad for the GOP.

The PBS/NPR poll is a pretty Republican picture. But it’s simply a snapshot in time. Public opinion is a motion picture that won’t premiere until Election Day. There will be a major surge in Democratic support and enthusiasm now that Kavanaugh actually sits on the high court.

Concern among Democrats, especially among women, will rise before the midterms once it sinks into the hearts and minds of progressives that Kavanaugh’s vote on the court threatens abortion rights and progress on gun reform.

Kavanaugh’s presence on the Supreme Court bench rubs salt into Democratic wounds while Republican voters will lose energy because they are content with their victory.

We’ll see on Nov. 6 if Democratic anger over Kavanaugh’s triumph ultimately translates into votes.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also a senior adviser to, and editor of, the blog at MyTiller.com, a social media network for politics.