Allegations Against Brett Kavanaugh Fail to Move Public Opinion

Despite enormous media coverage and intense discussions in official Washington, the allegations leveled against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have had little impact on public opinion (so far).

Before his confirmation hearings, a survey found that 48% of voters wanted their Senator to confirm Kavanaugh. After the hearings, but before the accusations, 52% favored confirmation. Now, after the accusations, that number is 49%.  Keep in mind that the poll has a 3-point margin of error.

Today, 23% have a Very Favorable opinion of the Judge while 21% have a Very Unfavorable view. Prior to the allegations, those figures were 22% and 18%.

Confirming this sense that not much has changed is the Generic Congressional Ballot. Just before the accusations against Kavanaugh were made publicly, Democrats had an eight-point advantage (49% to 41%). In polling since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford went public, Democrats have a seven-point lead (48% to 41%).

Collectively, the surveys confirm the notion that voters view the allegations as a political Rorschach test. Everyone is seeing what they expect (or want) to see. Those who opposed him before the allegations have another reason for wanting the nomination defeated. Those who support him haven’t seen any reason to change their mind.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the data is that just 27% are following this story Very Closely. That’s the same modest level of interest as before the allegations were made. It may be that most voters are just tuning out the entire dispute as little more than political gamesmanship from official Washington.

In our surveys, we didn’t ask specifically about the allegations or the credibility of either person involved. Partly, that’s because this is a fast-moving story and any specific question we asked might be obsolete before the poll is finished.

An even larger concern stems from the modest level of interest in this story. Because most voters are not following the story Very Closely, our questions might offer more information than many respondents had already heard. Obviously, that could sway the answers significantly in one direction or the other.

So, in the interest of reliably understanding the deeper impact of the accusations and responses, we decided on a “less is more” approach.  Rather than trying to craft questions about who said what, we decided to focus on the overall response to Kavanaugh and his nomination. The fact that we had a baseline of data from before the accusations made it possible to directly measure the impact of the allegations.

As I write this on Wednesday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a public hearing for next Monday allowing both Kavanaugh and his accuser to make their case. It is quite possible that those hearings, or events leading up to them, could dramatically shake up public opinion.

While that process unfolds, will keep monitoring the situation. Our current plans are to repeat the same bank of tracking questions both before and after the committee hearings. We believe this will give us the best possible measure of how voters interpret both the credibility and the relevance of the information presented for and against the nomination.

Posted in Scott's Columns

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