The nation will witness an unusual spectacle Thursday as Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, nominated by President Trump to sit on the Supreme Court, answers questions under oath in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee about allegations that he assaulted a girl at a party in 1982 when both were in high school. That allegation, made by Christine Blasey Ford, spurred the unusual hearing, triggered several other allegations about Kavanaugh’s past behavior and knocked his likely confirmation off track.
How people respond to the allegations, though, is largely driven by partisan politics. More so, in fact, than perhaps any other issue that has arisen during Trump’s presidency.
An NPR-Marist poll released Wednesday finds that most Americans oppose confirming Kavanaugh to the bench. There’s a sizable split between men and women on that point, with men being 13 points more likely to support confirmation. But there’s a 74-point difference between the parties, with Republicans strongly supporting his confirmation and Democrats strongly opposing it.
Republicans support his confirmation so much, in fact, that a majority of them believe he should be confirmed to the court even if the allegations are proven true. On this question, the partisan gap is smaller, because the position has less support overall.
Compare those first approval numbers to figures from Quinnipiac University polling in April 2017 looking at support for the confirmation of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. Still a partisan split — but of only 53 points. The divide by gender was about the same, probably in part a function of concern about reproductive rights with the appointment of conservative judges.
The numbers supporting Kavanaugh aren’t like those for Gorsuch — they’re like those for Trump. Trump, too, has strong support from Republicans and almost no support from Democrats. The partisan gap on Trump approval is 77 points; the split by gender is 14.
How polarizing is Kavanaugh? The gulf between views of Democrats and Republicans on his nomination is even wider than the split on Trump’s signature issue: building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
That responses are so much more polarized by party than gender isn’t a surprise. The Pew Research Center found in October that partisanship was by far the best predictor of differences in views on political issues, far more than gender. And that gulf has been growing.
It’s the scale of that partisan difference on Kavanaugh that’s remarkable. We pulled poll results for key policies and issues promoted by Trump. The partisan split on Kavanaugh in the NPR-Marist poll is wider than on any other subject, by far.
About 1 in 5 Americans said they didn’t know how to feel about Kavanaugh’s confirmation (including about 1 in 10 Republicans and Democrats). Only about half the country told the NPR-Marist pollsters that they’d been following the confirmation process closely.
But 6 in 10 said they planned to follow Thursday’s hearing closely, including 69 percent of Republicans. Whether that reinforces or weakens the partisan split is likely to depend on how ably Kavanaugh and Ford answer the committee’s questions.