Democrats are hoping to make Senate elections in a handful of swing and blue states a referendum on Republicans' Supreme Court blockade, and new polling suggests they may have a shot.
According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, a sizable majority of Americans — including a strong contingent of independents — think the Senate should at least hold hearings on President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court confirmation battle has become intensely partisan, so the numbers break down somewhat along partisan lines. But it's notable that by a margin of nearly 2-to-1, independents side with Democrats on this. Among independents, 62 percent say the Senate should hold hearings, while 32 percent say the Senate should not. And even Republicans are pretty evenly split.
There's even more good news for Democrats, who appear to be benefiting from stronger emotions favoring their side.
Among all voters, 44 percent say they strongly feel the Senate should hold hearings, while just 25 percent say they feel strongly the Senate shouldn't. Republicans might also suffer from an enthusiasm gap on this issue: While 79 percent of Democrats agree with their party’s leadership on holding hearings for an Obama nominee, just about half of Republicans (49 percent) agree with their party’s leadership in Congress .
Within hours of Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) drew a line in the sand on holding hearings or taking a vote. He declared that the Senate won't consider Obama's nominee this late in his presidency and will wait for the next president to be elected.
Senate Republicans argue it's only fair to let the people decide which presidential candidate gets to pick the person who could reshape the court's ideological makeup for decades. Republicans' somewhat-risky political calculation here is that by blocking Obama's nominee, they can get their guy in the White House and have control over who gets on the court.
The flip side is that voters will sour on what Democrats say is a blatantly partisan move. They argue that to block a sitting president's nominee — before he or she is nominated — for nearly a year is unprecedented. The nominee at least deserves hearings or even a vote, they say. (This is a good time to reiterate that The Washington Post only asked whether Americans think Obama's nominee should get a hearing, and not necessarily a vote.)
Perhaps buoyed by numbers like this, Democrats are trying to make the confirmation process — or the lack of one — a central feature of their campaign to take back the Senate.
A Harry Reid-affiliated Super PAC is running an ad in New Hampshire tying Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) to GOP front-runner Donald Trump, who has also said the Senate should consider the next president's nominee over Obama's. And Democrats have convinced a former lieutenant governor to challenge the once-unchallengeable Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who in his role as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is taking most of the heat for blocking Obama's nominee.
The efficacy of Democrats' Supreme Court strategy is to be determined. (For example, do voters actually care about the relatively arcane confirmation process?) But data like this suggest they may have an opening, at least with that crucial sliver of truly independent, undecided voters.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted March 3-6 among a random national sample of 1,000 adults, including interviews on landline and cellular phones. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.