An allegation of attempted rape leveled at US Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s pick for Supreme Court Justice, has put the nomination process in flux, and (at least momentarily) changed the political dynamic for Senate Republicans trying hard to push the confirmation through ahead of the November elections. But for so-called “red-state Democrats”—Democratic senators up for reelection this year in states won by Trump in 2016—the politics of a Kavanaugh vote remain decidedly stable: A “No” on confirmation is not only consistent with the ideals of the party; it is also the way to win.
Talking heads and media pundits have presented the Kavanaugh nomination as a difficult choice for senators like Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, or West Virginia’s Joe Manchin—one that pits rejecting Kavanaugh against keeping their Senate seats. But new data from Demand Justice and YouGov Blue suggests it’s a false dichotomy: Kavanaugh does not enjoy majority support of the electorate in any key states; independent and undecided voters don’t expect a Kavanaugh vote to affect their election choice; and, perhaps most critically, voting for Kavanaugh risks demobilizing the base Democratic voters red-state senators will need to survive.
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that, while support for the Kavanaugh nomination has remained fairly steady at an unremarkable 34 percent, opposition has increased markedly to 38 percent, up from 29 percent just a month ago. Among women, Kavanaugh’s negatives are even higher: 42 percent oppose the pick, while only 28 percent are in favor. (Among college-educated women, 49 percent oppose.) In fact, these low-and-getting-lower levels of support for the Kavanaugh nomination have been unprecedented from the start. Traditionally, Supreme Court nominees have enjoyed decent approval numbers upon introduction to the public, and pluralities of Americans have supported most confirmations. Gallup polling found net positive support for each of the last four nominees: Neil Gorsuch (+13), Merrick Garland (+23), Elena Kagan (+10), and Sonia Sotomayor (+19). Even George W. Bush pick Harriet Miers, who was seen at the time as wildly unpopular, and whose nomination was pulled after less than a month, was only net negative by one point.
National toplines, however, don’t always accurately describe the political dynamics felt by each individual senator. To that end, Demand Justice commissioned polling from research firm YouGov Blue, which was shared with The Nation. Survey results suggest that Democrats in the key battleground states of Florida, Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota want their senators to remain united in opposition to Kavanaugh, and that a vote for Trump’s nominee could actually worsen the reelection prospects of all of the supposedly imperiled senators. Among the total electorate, support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation was below 50 percent in all of these states—even before assault allegations surfaced—and supporters only barely outnumbered the opposition in Indiana (39 percent support, 34 percent opposed) and Florida (37 percent in support, 32 percent opposed). Among Democrats alone, opposition to Kavanaugh outpaces support in every state in this survey.