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Most Americans Want To Wait Until After The Election To Fill The Supreme Court Vacancy

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg opened up a rare vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, and Republicans are moving quickly to fill the seat. President Trump says he will nominate a replacement for Ginsburg on Saturday, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged a vote on the nominee this year. (And it looks as if he might have the votes to confirm her.) But polling conducted in the wake of Ginsburg’s death shows that this may be an unpopular decision.

We’ve identified 12 polls so far that have asked some version of the question, “Should Ginsburg’s seat be filled this year by Trump, or next year by the winner of the 2020 presidential election?” And on average, 52 percent of respondents have said to wait, while only 39 percent have said Trump should fill the seat now.

Americans want the election winner to choose a new justice

Polls conducted since Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death asking whether the Supreme Court vacancy should be filled by President Trump now or by the winner of the 2020 election

The seat should be filled by …
Pollster Dates Trump now the 2020 winner
SurveyMonkey/Insider Sept. 18-19 28% 45%
Data for Progress Sept. 18-19 39 53
YouGov Sept. 19 42 51 Sept. 19 41 52
Reuters/Ipsos* Sept. 19-20 46 62
Rasmussen Sept. 20 45 51
Morning Consult/Politico Sept. 18-20 37 50
Global Strategy Group/Navigator Sept. 19-21 36 56
HuffPost/YouGov Sept. 19-22 36 49
The Economist/YouGov Sept. 20-22 41 46
CNN/SSRS Sept. 21-22 41 59
Yahoo News/YouGov Sept. 21-23 40 53
Average 39 52

*Reuters/Ipsos numbers sum to more than 100 percent because the poll asked two separate questions: whether respondents thought Trump should fill the seat, and whether they thought the 2020 winner should fill the seat.

Source: Polls

If that split sounds familiar, that’s because it closely echoes both polls of Trump’s approval rating (43 percent approval vs. 53 percent disapproval, on average) and national horse-race polls between Trump and Joe Biden (which average out to Biden 50 percent, Trump 43 percent).1

In other words, partisanship is probably driving people’s opinions of when the Supreme Court vacancy should be filled. You also saw this in the crosstabs of almost every poll this week: On average, 78 percent of Republican respondents said Trump should fill the vacancy now, while 84 percent of Democratic respondents said it should be up to the winner of the election. (This is a reversal from 2016, when Democrats generally believed then-President Obama should have been allowed to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat, while Republicans supported having the winner of the election decide.)

But this issue is also a great example of when question wording can really affect the results of a poll. For example, Americans felt differently about whether Trump should appoint a replacement and whether the Senate should confirm her if he does. For example, registered voters told YouGov by a 51 percent to 42 percent margin that Trump should not appoint a new justice, but they were more divided when asked, “If President Donald Trump appoints a new Supreme Court Justice before the presidential inauguration in January 2021, do you think the U.S. Senate should confirm the nominee?”: 45 percent said yes, 48 percent said no. Similarly, Global Strategy Group/GBAO/Navigator found that registered voters thought 56 percent to 36 percent that the winner of the election should be responsible for nominating Ginsburg’s replacement — but when asked what they thought what should happen if Trump nominates someone anyway, 42 percent thought it would be right for the Senate to vote on the nominee, while 47 percent thought it would be wrong.

4 Senate races to watch as GOP rushes to fill Justice Ginsburgâ聙聶s seat

In addition, some polls asked if Ginsburg’s seat should be filled before Election Day (Nov. 3), while others asked if it should be filled before inauguration day (Jan. 20). And while many voters would prefer to wait until after the election, that doesn’t mean they necessarily oppose Trump naming a nominee. In the SurveyMonkey/Insider poll, 45 percent of registered voters agreed that “whoever wins the election should appoint the next justice, and the Senate should not vote until the election is decided,” while 28 percent said the Senate should confirm her “as soon as possible, before the 2020 election.” But another 13 percent said it should happen “after the 2020 election but before the next inauguration, regardless [of whether] President Trump wins or loses.” So that suggests that 58 percent of voters want to wait until after the election, but that 41 percent of voters want Trump to be the one to fill the seat.

Relatedly, Reuters/Ipsos returned two seemingly contradictory findings: First, 62 percent of adults (including 49 percent of Republicans) agreed with the statement, “The winner of the election should be able to appoint Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement on the Supreme Court.” (Only 24 percent disagreed.) But the pollster also found that respondents agreed, 46 percent to 40 percent, with the statement, “President Donald Trump should nominate a replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg before his term ends.” It could be that Americans acknowledge Trump’s right to nominate a replacement but don’t want to see her confirmed until we know the results of the election. Or it could be that many Republicans believe Trump will be the winner of the election, so the two statements aren’t contradictory to them.

Another good example of how question wording might have affected people’s answers came from The Economist/YouGov, which asked, “Do you think Donald Trump should nominate someone to fill the vacancy, or should the seat remain vacant until a new president takes office in January 2021?” Referring to the seat as “remain[ing] vacant,” rather than saying that winner of the election would fill it, might have emphasized to respondents that the Supreme Court would be understaffed for at least four months in this scenario; the use of the phrase “new president” might also have implied “not Trump.” That could explain why this was one of the best polls for McConnell and Trump: Respondents supported waiting to fill the seat by only a 46 percent to 41 percent margin.

Overall, it seems clear that forging ahead with the confirmation process now is somewhere between a mildly unpopular decision and a very unpopular one. But it’s unclear whether it will actually hurt Republicans at the ballot box. As I wrote on Tuesday, only 5 percent of registered voters told SurveyMonkey/Insider that the Supreme Court vacancy made them less certain of their vote, and a plurality of respondents told Reuters/Ipsos that it would have no impact on their presidential vote.

And although the choice of who succeeds Ginsburg is important to many Americans — “very important” to 52 percent of them and “somewhat important” to 23 percent, according to The Economist/YouGov — it might not be as important as the other issues they were already basing their vote on. According to the HuffPost/YouGov survey, only 21 percent of voters said the Supreme Court is one of their top three issue priorities — well behind the economy (42 percent), the coronavirus (41 percent) and health care (34 percent).

Other polling bites

  • An Ipsos/ABC News poll has found that 69 percent of Americans don’t have confidence in Trump’s assurances that a coronavirus vaccine would be effective; only 27 percent placed a “great deal” or “good amount” of confidence in the president. In addition, the pollster found that the number of Americans who said they are likely to get the vaccine has dropped from 74 percent in May to 64 percent in September.
  • According to a Harvard Institute of Politics survey, 63 percent of young Americans (under age 30) said they would “definitely” vote in the general election — higher than the 47 percent who said so in 2016. Among these young likely voters, Biden held a 60 percent to 27 percent lead.
  • Traditional campaign field organizations — like knocking on doors to ask people for their vote — have been greatly diminished in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, some Democrats are worried that Biden’s campaign is doing so little on-the-ground outreach. But a new Morning Consult/Politico survey may validate Biden’s approach: 63 percent of voters said they felt apprehensive about answering the door for canvassers, while just 28 percent said they were comfortable with it.
  • The race in California’s 53rd Congressional District won’t help decide who controls the U.S. House; the campaign is between two Democrats who both advanced from March’s all-party primary. But there are still big differences between 31-year-old self-funder Sara Jacobs, a moderate, and San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez, a progressive who would also be the first openly LGBTQ Latina in Congress. But a new SurveyUSA poll conducted for KGTV-TV and the San Diego Union-Tribune gives Jacobs a 38 percent to 24 percent lead in the general election.
  • Just want 2020 to be over already? You’re in good company. When YouGov asked Americans how the year 2020 has been for them, 21 percent said “bad,” and another 21 percent said “terrible.” While 37 percent of Americans said 2020 has been “okay,” only 12 percent said it has been “good,” and just 5 percent said it has been “great.”

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,2 42.9 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.2 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.3 points). At this time last week, 43.3 percent approved and 52.7 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -9.5 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 41.6 percent and a disapproval rating of 54.7 percent, for a net approval rating of -13.0 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot,3 Democrats currently lead by 6.4 percentage points (48.8 percent to 42.3 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 6.4 points (48.6 percent to 42.2 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 7.4 points (48.3 percent to 41.0 percent).

Derek Shan contributed research.

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.


  1. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

  2. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

  3. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.