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Kavanaugh polling: FBI on the hot seat


Americans believe Christine Blasey Ford. And most also believe Brett Kavanaugh. Given this state of affairs, it’s the FBI investigation that has the most promise to settle the debate on whether Kavanaugh should be confirmed after what most voters see as a process that has degenerated into a national disgrace.

If the FBI finds no corroboration of the charges, 60 percent believe that Kavanaugh should then be confirmed, according to a weekend Harvard CAPS/Harris poll of 1,330 registered voters. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), feeling rather directly the corrosive split within the nation, has the support of the country in insisting upon a brief and limited FBI investigation before the final vote. Sixty-six percent of Americans support that decision, and that includes 80 percent of Democrats, 69 percent of independents but only 45 percent of Republicans. GOP voters were ready for a vote now, and overwhelmingly back the confirmation without further delay.

{mosads}The testimony of Ford and Kavanaugh had a powerful but not decisive effect on the public. Huge numbers in the weekend poll reported seeing parts of it or reading about it, and 40 percent thought she alone was credible, 23 percent thought just Kavanaugh was, and 27 percent said both were believable. Read together, the poll findings indicate that 67 percent found her credible and 50 percent found him to be so. Even President Donald Trump said her testimony was “compelling.”

But the credibility of their testimony does not appear to be the decisive factor. Rather, the question comes down to corroboration as the standard for tipping public opinion on whether Kavanaugh should ascend to the high court. In terms of the overall needle, after the testimony was heard, 37 percent say confirm the nomination, 44 percent say reject it, and 18 percent remain undecided, with Democrats going one way and Republicans the other. But once the voters are told that the named witnesses deny any knowledge of the allegation, this shifts to 57 percent who favor confirmation — and that goes up to 60 percent, if the FBI agrees there is no corroboration. Remember, because there is no specific “where” or “when” in Ford’s allegation, Kavanaugh cannot establish an alibi — and that’s why corroboration of other facts is so critical.

Given that only the two principals testified on national TV, the information that potential witnesses denied any knowledge was not front-and-center nor as credible without an independent determination that sustains those facts. Without question, if the FBI does find collaborating facts, Kavanaugh would be gone. Either way, FBI Director Chris Wray will now be on the hot seat. Hopefully this will work out better than the last time the country waited for the FBI.

Underlying this battle for the nomination is a political battle, and 69 percent agree with Kavanaugh’s pronouncement and Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) statement that the proceedings have been a “national disgrace.” Sen. Feinstein definitely is in the crosshairs, with 75 percent believing she should have turned over Ford’s letter months earlier so that this debacle might have been avoided. Graham has raised some serious questions about the actions of Ford’s lawyers and Feinstein’s legal referral, too.

No one, clearly, is winning the partisan battle today — if anything, both parties are losing. Men, by 62 percent, say Democrats are to blame while women, by 57 percent, say Republicans are to blame for the partisanship they are seeing. And, without doubt, this fight is likely to energize turnout in the midterms, with 45 percent saying they are more likely to vote as a result of the confirmation battle. So far, Democrats have a slight edge in building voter energy.

Also without question, attitudes towards confirmation are divided by party, with 72 percent of Republicans favoring immediate confirmation; that figure rises to 86 percent if there is a favorable FBI report. Democrats are dug in as well and, even after an FBI investigation that would fail to corroborate Ford, 60 percent still would oppose Kavanaugh. It’s the independents who can be swung over by the added element of a supplemental FBI background check.

Despite the close national numbers on which party is to blame for this morass, the strong partisanship that’s been brought to the fore means that Democratic senators in red states may have some tough sledding if they oppose this nomination; the numbers in states like West Virginia or Indiana are likely to highly favor the Republican position on Kavanaugh.

Of course, if Democrats are unhappy with the FBI’s results, they will simply call it inadequate and seek to muddy the waters. The attorneys for Ford already have taken that position, and it is likely to be echoed by Democrats. This will put Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Flake in a difficult position, because their compromise was to order a weeklong investigation — and that’s what the majority of the public backed in the poll. The issue for Coons is whether he will back the results or his bipartisanship will be short-lived.

Ultimately the public expects that the FBI will come back with little that’s new and 63 percent expect that the nomination will be approved. Of course, very little so far has gone as expected in this confirmation battle and there are no doubt more twists and turns ahead.

Mark Penn is a managing partner of the Stagwell Group, a private equity firm specializing in marketing services companies, as well as chairman of the Harris Poll and author of “Microtrends Squared.” He served as pollster and adviser to President Clinton from 1995 to 2000, including during Clinton’s impeachment. You can follow him on Twitter @Mark_Penn.

Tags Chris Coons Donald Trump Jeff Flake Lindsey Graham Politics Senate

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