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Initial Views on Kavanaugh Confirmation Divided

Initial Views on Kavanaugh Confirmation Divided

Story Highlights

  • 41% want him confirmed, 37% do not
  • Historical averages are 49% support, 26% opposition
  • Democrats more opposed than for any prior nominee

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- By 41% to 37%, Americans want the Senate to vote for, rather than against, the confirmation of federal judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. This four-percentage-point margin is slimmer than any Gallup has measured in its initial read on 10 prior nominees since 1987. On average, the margin in favor of confirming the nominee in these polls has been 23 points, 49% to 26%.

Initial Support for Confirmation of Recent Supreme Court Nominees
Would you like to see the Senate vote in favor of [name of nominee] serving on the Supreme Court, or not?
Date of poll Vote in favor Not vote in favor No opinion
% % %
Brett Kavanaugh 2018 Jul 10-15 41 37 22
Neil Gorsuch 2017 Feb 1-2 45 32 23
Merrick Garland 2016 Mar 18-19 52 29 19
Elena Kagan 2010 May 24-25 46 32 22
Sonia Sotomayor 2009 May 29-31 54 28 19
Samuel Alito 2005 Nov 7-10 50 25 25
Harriet Miers 2005 Oct 13-16 44 36 20
John Roberts 2005 Jul 22-24 59 22 19
Ruth Bader Ginsburg 1993 Jun 18-21 53 14 33
Clarence Thomas 1991 Jul 11-14 52 17 31
Robert Bork 1987 Aug 24-Sep 2 31 25 44
Average for prior nominees 49 26 26
Note: Data are based on first Gallup survey conducted after nomination was made. There are no measures for Stephen Breyer, David Souter, Anthony Kennedy and Douglas Ginsburg.
Gallup

The results are based on a July 10-15 Gallup poll, conducted in the days immediately after President Donald Trump's announcement that Kavanaugh was his choice to replace retiring justice Anthony Kennedy.

Gallup has measured initial support for all recent nominees dating back to 1991, with the exception of Stephen Breyer. Gallup also measured support for Robert Bork in 1987. Most of these measures came in the first few days after the nomination announcement was made, though the first reading on Bork came nearly two months after President Ronald Reagan nominated him.

Before Kavanaugh, the closest divisions of public opinion were six points (31% in favor, 25% opposed) for Bork in 1987 and eight points (44% to 36%) for Harriet Miers in 2005.

Gallup's initial measures of public support for Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Roberts showed each of these favored by more than 30-point margins, well above the historical average of 23 points.

For some nominees, Gallup measured opinion on multiple occasions between their nomination and their confirmation hearings. Typically, the percentage favoring their confirmation changed little over that period, with a modest increase in the percentage opposed and a similar decline in the percentage with no opinion.

Later polling on the Bork and Miers nominations showed even closer divisions of opinion for them than is seen in the initial measurement of Kavanaugh. In late October 2005, 42% of Americans were in favor of and 43% were opposed to the Miers nomination. In September 1987, 38% favored and 35% opposed Bork's nomination. Neither of those nominees was seated on the high court, with Miers' nomination withdrawn and Bork's nomination defeated in the Senate confirmation vote.

Record Opposition to Kavanaugh From Democrats

Opinions about Kavanaugh's confirmation are strongly related to partisanship -- 76% of Republicans favor him serving on the Supreme Court, while 67% of Democrats are opposed. Just 14% of Democrats want Kavanaugh confirmed.

Partisanship has always been a factor in public reaction to prior nominees. However, the level of opposition to Kavanaugh's confirmation among Democrats is the highest Gallup has measured to date among those who identify with the party not holding the White House. Democrats were less opposed toward Trump's prior nominee, Neil Gorsuch -- with 57% opposed to and 21% in favor of his confirmation. This matched the 57% opposition expressed by Republicans toward President Barack Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor in 2009.

Roberts was the last nominee to be received more positively than negatively by the opposing party. Ginsburg and Thomas also had net-positive cross-party receptions.

Opinions About Senate Confirmation of Supreme Court Nominee, Among Those Who Support the Opposition Party (to the President)
Party of president Opposition party Vote in favor Not vote in favor No opinion
% % %
Kavanaugh Rep Dem 14 67 19
Gorsuch Rep Dem 21 57 22
Garland Dem Rep 33 51 16
Kagan Dem Rep 26 51 22
Sotomayor Dem Rep 24 57 20
Alito Rep Dem 35 40 25
Miers Rep Dem 27 53 20
Roberts Rep Dem 42 35 23
Ginsburg Dem Rep 41 25 34
Thomas Rep Dem 45 25 31
Bork Rep Dem 18 38 43
Note: Data are based on first Gallup survey conducted after nomination was made. There are no measures for Stephen Breyer, David Souter, Anthony Kennedy and Douglas Ginsburg.
Gallup

While Kavanaugh engenders a stronger negative reaction from opponents of the president's party than prior nominees did, his evaluation among presidential loyalists is in line with historical figures.

The 76% of Republicans who want Kavanaugh confirmed exactly matches the percentage of Republicans who wanted Gorsuch confirmed, as well as the percentages of Democrats who wanted both Sotomayor and Merrick Garland to be seated on the court. Kavanaugh's support is also statistically similar to the initial levels for Samuel Alito and Miers among Republicans. Only Roberts had higher support (82%) among the president's party than Kavanaugh does.

Opinions About Senate Confirming Supreme Court Nominee, Among Those Who Identify With the President's Party
Party of president Vote in favor Not vote in favor No opinion
% % %
Kavanaugh Rep 76 9 15
Gorsuch Rep 76 11 14
Garland Dem 76 11 14
Kagan Dem 68 12 20
Sotomayor Dem 76 6 17
Alito Rep 73 11 16
Miers Rep 73 16 11
Roberts Rep 82 5 13
Ginsburg Dem 65 6 29
Thomas Rep 63 10 27
Bork Rep 48 11 41
Note: Data are based on first Gallup survey conducted after nomination was made. There are no measures for Stephen Breyer, David Souter, Anthony Kennedy and Douglas Ginsburg.
Gallup

Independents' reactions to Kavanaugh rank among the least positive measured for that group to date, with roughly as many opposing his nomination (37%) as favoring it (38%). The one-point margin is slightly worse than independents' initial opinions of Miers and Bork, and significantly worse than those for all other recent nominees.

Opinions About Senate Confirming Supreme Court Nominee, Among Independents
Vote in favor Not vote in favor No opinion
% % %
Kavanaugh 38 37 25
Gorsuch 44 31 25
Garland 44 31 25
Kagan 43 33 25
Sotomayor 54 27 19
Alito 43 26 31
Miers 39 34 27
Roberts 54 24 22
Ginsburg 52 12 36
Thomas 48 17 35
Bork 30 26 44
Note: Data are based on first Gallup survey conducted after nomination was made. There are no measures for Stephen Breyer, David Souter, Anthony Kennedy and Douglas Ginsburg.
Gallup

Implications

Kavanaugh begins his quest for the Supreme Court with a higher level of opposition than for any nominee Gallup has measured since 1987, and barely more support than opposition overall. To a large degree, these attitudes reflect the nation's increasing political polarization, perhaps more than anything about Kavanaugh himself. Democrats' sizable opposition to Kavanaugh may also reflect concern that his nomination will push the court in a more conservative direction.

As more information about Kavanaugh's background emerges, he is hoping to avoid the fate that befell both Bork and Miers, nominees whose initial support was most similar to his. Bork's defeat was largely attributable to concerns among Democrats about his judicial philosophy, while Miers' nomination was derailed in large part by concerns about her qualifications and conservative credentials among some in her own party.

With Supreme Court confirmations now requiring a simple majority of Senate votes, and Republicans holding a majority in that chamber, Kavanaugh is likely to be confirmed. However, he has little cushion, with Republicans holding a two-seat advantage. It is possible that if public support for his nomination drops, it could tip moderate Republican senators against his confirmation; or if support for his nomination increases, it could convince moderate Democratic senators to back it.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 10-15, 2018, on the Gallup U.S. Poll, with a random sample of 1,296 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup U.S. Poll works.

Gallup

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