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Poll: Kavanaugh fallout continues to polarize voters ahead of midterms

NBC/WSJ poll finds support for Kavanaugh is deeply divided on partisan, gender lines
Image: Brett Kavanaugh
Judge Brett Kavanaugh speaks after being nominated by President Donald Trump to the Supreme Court in the East Room of the White House on July 9, 2018.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Just over two weeks after Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that voters remain deeply divided along partisan lines over his ascension to the court, with the consequences of his polarizing confirmation battle reverberating among key segments of the electorate on both the right and the left.

Overall, Kavanaugh remains underwater on personal favorability, with 34 percent of voters reporting a positive view of him, while 40 percent have a negative one.

Asked a different way, 40 percent of registered voters say they favor Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the high court, while 36 percent oppose it. About one in five (21 percent) say they need to know more about him.

But inside the numbers, partisanship reigns. Eighty percent of Republicans favor his confirmation to the high court, with just 6 percent opposing it. Just seven percent of Democrats favor his addition to the court, while two-thirds of Democrats (66 percent) disagree.

Among voters who express a preference for a Republican or Democratic-controlled Congress after the November elections, the difference is even more stark.

Those who favor Democratic control of Congress opposed Kavanaugh’s confirmation by a 70 percent to 4 percent margin. Those who favor GOP control favor his confirmation 84 percent to 2 percent.

The new polling comes as President Donald Trump has explicitly called Kavanaugh’s contentious Senate confirmation — which came after allegations that he committed sexual assault while in high school — a key issue for the midterm elections. At a rally in Montana last week, Trump predicted that the election will turn on “Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order, and common sense.”

That message has been reiterated in paid advertising by Republican groups like the Congressional Leadership Fund, which recently unleashed midterm ads charging that "the liberal mob set out to destroy [Kavanaugh] and his family, because of their own extreme political agenda."

Republicans hope that GOP voters will be energized by Democratic opposition to Kavanaugh not just in deep red states where incumbent Democratic senators are up for re-election — like North Dakota, Montana and Tennessee — but also competitive House races nationwide. Democrats, meanwhile, hope that Kavanaugh’s high negative ratings among women and minorities will spur those voters to come to the polls and cast ballots for Democratic candidates.

And the poll may show good and bad news for both sides.

Republicans overall have seen an increase in enthusiasm about the midterms since the last NBC/WSJ poll in September — which was conducted before Kavanaugh and accuser Christine Blasey Ford testified publicly about the assault allegations. Last month, 61 percent of Republicans indicated that they had the highest level of interest in voting in the midterms; that’s up to 68 percent this month.

Voters in key House districts also favor Kavanaugh’s confirmation. In districts rated as "toss-up" or "lean" races by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, voters favor Kavanaugh’s confirmation 43 percent to 33 percent.

But Democrats are also seeing some signs that their key constituencies may be fired up as a result of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Since September, the share of Democrats expressing the highest level of interest in the election is up from 65 percent to 72 percent.

During that time, Kavanaugh’s unfavorability also deepened significantly among Democrats, from 52 percent having a negative view of him (34 percent very negative) to 74 percent this month (55 percent very negative).

The difference is particularly notable among women under 50. High interest in the election among women 18-49 rose from 44 percent last month to 62 percent this month. In the same time, Kavanaugh’s favorability rating among young women went from 15 percent positive/32 percent negative (net -17 percent) to 21 percent positive/52 percent negative (net -31 percent.)

Women under 50 are also one of the groups most likely to worry that Kavanaugh’s confirmation will have a long-lasting negative effect on female victims of sexual misconduct.

Asked if Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court will make women less likely to come forward with personal accounts of sexual assault, pluralities of women with a college degree (40 percent), nonwhite women (40 percent) and women under 50 (38 percent) agreed.

That’s about twice the share of men without a college degree (19 percent), white men ( 19 percent) and men under 50 (19 percent).

The poll was conducted Oct. 14-17, 2018. The margin of error for 900 registered voters is +/- 3.27 percentage points. The margin of error for 645 likely voters is +/- 3.86 percentage points.