With the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday, the issue is poised to become one of the most important in the upcoming presidential election. This time, though, it’s not entirely clear that Trump will be the beneficiary.
Before Ginsburg’s death, the Supreme Court was not in the top tier of concerns for 2020 voters — unsurprisingly, given the surfeit of problems that have blanketed this year. CNN-SSRS polling released last month found that about 4 in 10 respondents saw the issue as extremely important to their vote.
Pew Research Center polling from the same month found that the issue was slightly more central to respondents’ votes, with 64 percent saying that Supreme Court nominations were “very important” to their vote. What’s worth noting in Pew’s data is the slight, nonsignificant difference between Trump supporters and supporters of the Democratic nominee, former vice president Joe Biden. About two-thirds of Biden supporters said the issue was very important, compared to about 6 in 10 Trump supporters.
CNN’s poll broke down the same question by party. Nearly 8 in 10 Democrats said the Supreme Court was “very” or “extremely” important to their vote, compared with 7 in 10 Republicans. Fully half of Democrats identified the issue as “extremely important.” Women were more likely than men to hold that view.
When Fox News asked poll respondents earlier this month who they trusted more to handle a court nomination, Biden had a distinct advantage. In a poll where Biden led Trump by five points nationally, his advantage on the issue of court nominations was seven points. While the two candidates were tied with men, Biden enjoyed a double-digit advantage with women, including suburban women.
In battleground states, Biden enjoyed a seven-point advantage on the question. In a series of battleground-state polls released by the New York Times and Siena College on Friday, Biden’s margin was at times bigger: 10 points in Arizona, 12 points in Maine and three points in North Carolina.
All of this is about to be upended, of course. At a rally in Minnesota on Friday night, Trump was already cajoling the crowd to consider Supreme Court nominations as a factor in their vote, apparently without being aware of Ginsburg’s death. It’s likely that, eager to talk about something besides the coronavirus pandemic, Trump will seize on the issue, as might other Republicans up for reelection who are looking to mobilize their base.
Ginsburg’s empty seat won’t only be a point of focus for Republicans, of course. Democrats, particularly those concerned about reproductive issues, will likely see the moment with similar urgency.
The presidential race has been fairly static for months. This is the sort of jolt that which might start shifting its trajectory.