Kavanaugh’s Confirmation: A Story of Gender and Partisanship

As Justice Kavanaugh begins his lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court, there has been plenty of talk about what this means for the upcoming election as well as the country as a whole. Some argue that the placement of Kavanaugh will galvanize Democratic supporters, while others posit that Republican engagement will offset the Democratic enthusiasm. According to our data, both views are correct.

We have been tracking opinions over the course of Kavanaugh’s rocky journey to the Supreme Court and to say the views of the newest Supreme Court Justice are polarized would be an understatement. As you will see, a person's partisanship and gender almost perfectly predicts how you viewed this episode. The more partisans were unswayed in either direction regardless of gender, while those who do not identify closely with either party had different views depending on their gender.

We often report on the numbers that change. This time, however, it may be the numbers that don’t change that we should think about the most.

For determining Kavanaugh’s approval, we do not just ask respondents if they support or oppose Kavanaugh being approved, but instead we ask what percent do they support his appointment and what percent do they oppose it. This allows us to track not only the relative support of each position, but the intensity and volatility of those responses.

As with public polling, our panelists reported an average score of 53% for rejecting his nomination and 44% for approving it.

Not surprisingly, opinion on Kavanaugh’s nomination is split by party and gender. Democrats give an average rejection score of 85%, while Republicans allocate an almost equal amount (83%) toward approval. Independents are split with 47% approval and 49% rejection. As with many issues today, Democrats and Republicans are divided and often remain loyal to their partisan camp.

Independents tell a more interesting story. Indeed, the behavior between Independent women and men differed along with Independents as a whole in comparison to other parties over the past month.

Before the Washington Post published the article reporting Dr. Ford’s story, the opinions on Kavanaugh’s nomination among Independent women were steady with a 45% approval rating, as compared to just under 50% for rejecting the nomination. After the article was published, more Independent women rejected the nomination than before; and once Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh testified, Independent women were even more likely to reject the nomination. This week, the approval for Kavanaugh’s nomination has dropped almost 10 points (51.7% approval down to 42.9%) since the beginning of September. Even though the confirmation process was successful, Independent women are now over 10 points more likely to reject Kavanaugh’s nomination than to approve of it (53.9% reject versus 42.9% approve).

Independent men, while split, have been more willing than Independent women to approve of Kavanaugh’s nomination throughout the process. At the beginning of September, Independent men averaged 50.8% approval and 43.4% rejection. These opinions held relatively steady through mid-September with about 55% approval and slightly more than 40% rejection. However, in the days leading up to the hearing, Independent men became less likely to approve and more likely to reject. By the time Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh testified, Independent men were slightly more likely to reject the nomination than to approve of it. While this was a fleeting moment on the trendline, it shows that opinions did waver based on the events surrounding the hearing. In the days following the hearing, Independent men were clearly swayed by the testimony of Dr. Ford and/or the now Supreme Court Justice, or at least by the discussion around the testimony.

Given the trendlines of Independent Men and Women discussed above, we were not surprised to see little movement among Republican men, but the numbers among Republican women was more unexpected. Even though women overall are 15 points more likely to reject than to approve of the nomination, Republican women overwhelmingly approve of the nomination with 81% approval on average. Additionally, their approval did not waver before and after Dr. Ford’s and Justice Kavanaugh’s testimonies. While the Washington Post article and hearing testimony impacted the views of Independent women, Republican women shifted less than 5%, staying around 80% approval throughout the entire process. Similarly, Democratic women’s approval and rejection of his nomination remain relatively stagnant throughout the last month. 86% of Republican women approve his nomination, a 3% increase overall. At the same time, 12% reject his nomination, a decrease by 2%. These trendlines show us a story of partisanship politics that is resilient to outside events.

We often report on the numbers that change. This time, however, it may be the numbers that don’t change that we should think about the most.

Stefan Hankin