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Kavanaugh May Be Getting More Unpopular

Brett Kavanaugh was already one of the most unpopular Supreme Court nominees in recent history, and while we don’t have a lot of polling data since Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that he sexually assaulted her when the two of them were in high school, the surveys we do have suggest the allegations have made him more unpopular.

Four organizations have conducted polls both before and after Ford came forward publicly on Sept. 16. A pair of NBC News/Wall Street Journal surveys show a sizable dip in Kavanaugh’s net support.1 As did the Ipsos tracking poll.2 Morning Consult found a smaller dip. And Kavanaugh actually gained a couple percentage points in net support according to two HuffPost/YouGov surveys.3

Averaging all the before-and-after results we have, Kavanaugh’s net support declined by about 4 percentage points. But that’s a small enough shift that we can’t rule out the chance that it’s simply statistical noise.

Early signs that Kavanaugh’s popularity has dipped

Polls of Brett Kavanaugh’s approval conducted before and after Sept. 16, when The Washington Post published Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of sexual assault

Net Support
Pollster Before AFter Change
NBC/WSJ +4 -4 -8
Morning Consult +5 +1 -4
HuffPost/YouGov -6 -4 +2
Ipsos -3 -9 -6

So what can we say with more confidence? First, Americans are split on Kavanaugh along partisan lines. In the HuffPost/YouGov survey from early September, 68 percent of Republicans approved of Trump’s decision to nominate Kavanaugh, compared with only 7 percent of Democrats. In the HuffPost/YouGov survey from this week, 69 percent of Republicans and 8 percent of Democrats approved.

Second, a sizable bloc of voters do not have an opinion on Kavanaugh’s nomination — more than a quarter according to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, and that hasn’t really changed compared with a month ago. HuffPost also found there was virtually no change in the number of people who said they were paying attention to the confirmation, before and after Ford’s allegation became public. In part, that could be because people are just not that tuned in. But it does leave some room for public opinion on Kavanaugh to move depending on how the confirmation process unfolds.

Otherwise, there aren’t many clear trends in the polling data pre- and post-allegation. But the polls do show some signs of a gender split. Women seem to have become more negative toward Kavanaugh after the allegations than they were before, according to the polls that released results broken down by gender.4 His net approval dropped 10 points among women between the two HuffPost polls and 1-point in the Morning Consult. Among men, Kavanaugh’s net approval has gone up 12 points in the HuffPost/YouGov polls but down 6 points in the Morning Consult polls.

The big question is whether these numbers will remain stable or if they could shift if Ford and Kavanaugh testify publicly on Capitol Hill, as is currently scheduled. Such testimony is likely to draw massive news coverage. With many Americans still undecided on Kavanaugh, public opinion could still swing significantly.

CORRECTION (Sept. 22, 2018, 10:26 a.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the school where Ford teaches. It is Palo Alto University, not Stanford.

Footnotes

  1. The percentage of people who support his confirmation minus the percentage who oppose it.

  2. Because it’s a tracking poll, we couldn’t quite do an apples-to-apples comparison for Ipsos; so we’re comparing their data for the week ending Sept. 15 to their results from a survey conducted on Wednesday (Sept. 19) and Thursday (Sept. 20).

  3. HuffPost/YouGov conducted multiple surveys on Kavanaugh between his nomination being announced and the Ford allegations becoming public. For the “before” poll, we used the survey conducted Sept. 7-9.

  4. All except for NBC News/Wall Street Journal. We also excluded Ipsos as we couldn’t quite do an apples-to-apples comparison.

Janie Velencia is a freelance writer focused on survey research. She previously covered the 2016 elections as the associate polling editor for The Huffington Post. Prior to that, Janie managed congressional data and wrote for CQ Roll Call.

Perry Bacon Jr. is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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